Bullet and Expressive journaling for mental health

By Page H. Gifford

The arts, including writing, art, and music, and even theater arts, have proven to help those with mental health issues through self-expression and analysis. Through writing, those with PTSD, symptoms of depression, and anxiety, can redefine how they approach life by understanding themselves and their emotions better.

At a recent session at Lake Monticello, registered dietician, wellness coach, and co-founder of Hygeia Wellness Park, Cynthia Moore and Kara Davidson talked about two forms of journaling for better mental health.

Davidson explained that Bullet Journaling is a combination of to-do lists and a planner. It is an organizational tool that can help organize thoughts, increasing creativity and productivity. It can be time-consuming and may not be for everyone. Its nickname BoJo was Invented by Ryder Caroll, a productivity expert who had Attention Deficit Disorder.

“Anything can go in a Bullet Journal, lists, notes, and even traditional journaling,” she said. “It is a creative outlet and a calming and motivating mechanism for those with anxiety.” She added that it can incorporate daily or weekly logs and archive goals.

All the basic tools needed for journaling are a nice journal or notebook and a pen.

“It is rapid logging versus longer journaling. Keep it short and brief,” she said. “You can always do a brain dump, a decluttering task that helps with not chewing up the resources of your brain.” A brain dump is an organized list utilizing a scale of urgent and important to neither urgent nor important by using a code to identify the items that need attention or can wait. “This helps with reflection and finding meaning. Look at and review the previous day during morning reflection. It helps us to focus and re-direct.” She added that for day-to-day items like a car inspection or doctor’s appointment etc., she uses Google Calendar and the list can be used for other things like preparing for a trip, starting a project, or seeing friends.

“You can add updated tasks, cross off tasks in the evening, and look at open tasks that are incomplete.” She discussed two versions of Bullet Journaling, Collections and Custom Collections. Collections include daily logs, future logs, and an index (optional). A Custom Collection would include goals, a travel journal, lists, and even doodles.

Moore explained the benefits of expressive journaling. It was Anne Frank who inspired Moore with her journal written during Worl War II.

Moore quoted writer and artist Julia Cameron who said,” Writing is medicine. It is an appropriate anecdote to injury. It is an appropriate companion for any difficult change.” Moore cited studies done by Dr. James Pennbaker that proved expressive or therapeutic writing affects behavior, improving immune function, and psychological well-being, and reducing symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety. It is a useful tool to promote mental health when there is limited contact with a therapist.

“Pennebaker had two groups of college students who participated in an experiment over four years. One group wrote about mundane things while the other engaged in more deep expressive thinking and emotion. Those that did the deeper thinking and emotional writing fared better and showed improved mental health versus the other group who focused on simple things.”

Moore discussed steps toward expressive journaling. Start with finding a quiet place and time, undisturbed by others, to reflect and think, writing 15-20 minutes daily if possible. Write continuously, don’t worry about grammar or spelling.

“Pick a topic. It might be an emotionally upsetting event or a massive trauma. Trust where your writing takes you. During your writing you are encouraged to explore your deepest thoughts and emotions about a difficult experience,” she said. “It can be tied to relationships or related to past, present, or future events. You can pick the same topic to write about for four consecutive days or choose a different topic for each day. If you run out of things to write, repeat and keep writing about the topic until your time is up.”

She ended by saying, “Remember you are writing for yourself and no one else.”

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