Today is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day! And although I think EVERY day should be children’s mental health awareness day, its a good day to celebrate and have a conversation about mental health and how it all relates to…you guessed it…journaling.
1 in 5 children suffer from a mental health or learning disorder and 80% of chronic mental illnesses begin in childhood. That’s why it is SO important to talk about mental health.
Lots of kids (and even adults) feel like they have to hold all of their feelings inside, that they are weak if they express them. Bottling up of emotions can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety, problems managing anger, making good choices and a bunch of other issues.
Journaling can help manage mental health symptoms because its a great way to express your emotions and get your thoughts and feelings out.
Many times, those struggling with mental illnesses like depression or anxiety have thoughts that bother them a lot. Someone with depression might think a lot about how bad things are always going to happen to them, or how they aren’t good at anything. Someone with anxiety might think about how if they make a mistake it could ruin their lives. Journaling is an awesome way to work through that. Here’s a good way to structure it:
- Write down the thought that’s bothering you.
- Take a few deep breaths and try to “center” yourself.
- Take a step back and re-read what you wrote.
- Think about it: Does this thought make sense? Is it based in fact or opinion? How would you react if someone you cared about said this thought out loud to you?
- If you’re like most people, your thought might not make total sense (even though they FEEL really true). Try writing a counter thought. A counter thought is one that is based on fact and not on the way you’re feeling.
Here’s an example of an anxious thought pattern and how journaling like this might help:
“I’m feeling REALLY anxious about my upcoming finals. It’s almost the end of school and I’m going to fail. I’m going to fail and I’m never going to get into college. I’m going to fail and I’m never going to get a good job. I’m going to fail because I’m stupid and can’t ever do anything right….”
I’m feeling pretty terrible and scared. Let me try to journal to feel better, I’m not sure it will work, but whatever, I’ll try because I’m feeling really crappy right now and anything is better than just sitting here worrying.
I write down “I’m going to fail because I’m stupid and can’t ever do anything right.”
I look at the page for a few seconds. I really believe this. I feel bad about myself. I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. I focus on my breathing for a few seconds. I open my eyes again and read what I wrote.
I have a hard time coming up with a “counter thought” that makes more sense. I still feel like I’m stupid and can’t do anything right. So I ask myself how I would respond if my friend said these mean words about themselves to me.
….I would say she was silly, that it’s just a final and it won’t determine what happens to her for the rest of her life, I would tell her that she’s smart and if she puts her mind to it she’ll be okay. I’d remind her of all the things she’s good at. I’d offer to help her study if she wanted, and remind her that I’m her friend and I’m here for her.
I try to re-frame the way I think about the situation and myself. I know that beating myself up isn’t helpful and usually only makes me feel worse.
I write down “sometimes I make mistakes and that’s okay because everyone does, I’ll study hard and try to pass my test, if I don’t it will still be okay and I’ll try harder next time.”
I’m not sure I really believe it, but I write it down anyway because all of those things are facts. They are true and not just based on how I’m thinking and feeling. I keep going and writing down things that are nicer about myself. I try to stay positive. I feel a little better. It’s good to get my thoughts and feelings out, even if it is hard to come up with counter thoughts. Even if I don’t fully believe the positive things I wrote down, I’ve still stopped my “runaway train” of anxiety. That alone helps me feel better.
This is just an example of how journaling can be used to manage thoughts that are really common in people struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses. It is SO important to be able to express yourself in a way that works for you. Journaling can be a great way to do that. It doesn’t matter if you express yourself better with art or with words, its just important to express yourself.
REMEMBER: It is SO important to seek treatment from a mental health professional if you are struggling or think you might have a mental illness. Nothing is a substitute for quality care from a professional.
If you are in crisis please call your local crisis number, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or 911.
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