The Science of Journalling and Goal Setting for Positive Mental Health

anxiety depression goal setting journalling positivity psychology science selfdiscovery smartgoals success Mar 30, 2023

Goal setting and journalling are not only powerful tools that can help us achieve our dreams and live a more fulfilling life, they are beneficial to managing anxiety and stress too. 

One of the best ways to deal with any overwhelming emotion is to find a healthy way to express yourself, and this makes a journal a valuable tool in managing mental health issues, including reducing anxiety and stress and coping in times of depression. 

Setting goals can have a similar effect, but it’s a slightly different process. It allows you to break the bigger picture down into smaller, more manageable steps, so you aren’t overwhelmed. 

Journalling - Get Writing  

Most psychologists and mental health experts will tell you that journalling helps control symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, and it can improve your mood. Journalling helps this by:

  • Helping you prioritise your problems, fears or concerns.
  • Tracking daily symptoms and experiences so you can recognise triggers and learn about ways to address them positively.
  • Identifying any negative thoughts, feelings, patterns or behaviours, and providing you with opportunities for positive ‘self-talk’.
  • Giving you space and permission to give yourself some positive feedback, and champion your successes, even when it’s baby steps. This gives you positive material to look back on and strengthen your reserves when needed and instil resilience moving forward. 
  • Acting as a confidante. A problem shared is a problem halved, right? Sure, you won’t get any answers, but just getting your thoughts down can often give you perspective

There are benefits for those not even experiencing anxiety or mood issues. Journalling can improve decision-making processes, and help recover from physical or mental trauma, such as the loss of a loved one or being unable to work due to a physical injury. Some experts even claim it can help with physical recovery by boosting positive moods and thoughts, and aiding with sleep which is the time when our body heals. 

How to Journal

Most experts recommend that to benefit from the power of journalling you should be consistent. Whether that’s 15 minutes a day or once a week, making the commitment is key. 

Don’t just use a notepad, invest in something that makes you want to write in or inspires you; a nice notebook or a dedicated journal. And as someone with experience, I use a dedicated pen too. To get the most out of it: 

  1. Find a quiet, comfortable space, so you can relax and focus. 
  2. Commit to a  time and location that works best for you. In the morning with your tea or coffee? Down by the beach or pool, after your morning swim? At night, after your shower? Your best place will help you get into the habit and keep a routine. 
  3. Just write without concern for grammar or spelling, and keep writing whatever comes to mind. This will help you tap into your subconscious. 
  4. Write down and reflect on your goals - even use a different section of our notebook if it helps. Use it to track your progress and celebrate your milestone successes. (Don’t stress about this, I’ll break this down below.) 
  5. Practice gratitude. Reflecting on what you are grateful for and what makes you happy will help you stay focused on the good, treat yourself with kindness, and help you stay positive. 
  6. Source and write some meaningful affirmations. There are heaps of them available online, and books full of them in libraries and for purchase. Practise your handwriting and repeatedly scribe them without thinking; it can often take you into a meditative state. 

Remember, it’s not about being right or wrong; it’s all about you. Don’t hold back, or the exercise will be futile. The more you give, the better it will be. 

Goal Setting

This is a little different and in some ways more challenging, because it’s specifically about managing your own expectations, but it’s worth the challenge!

Lofty goals and objectives can be overwhelming and only add to anxiety and depression, but we all need them, even little ones, if we are going to ‘achieve’ anything. So, breaking goals down, creating checklists, and taking baby steps can be a great way to achieve success, kick those goals out of the park and relieve any stress. 

Goal setting helps us focus on the end game, track our wins, and stay motivated. But how do you use them to reduce your anxiety and depression? It’s about realistic and achievable planning - also known as SMART goals

  • Be specific - don’t just say, ‘I want to be healthier’. Instead say, ‘I want to give up sugar in the next 2 weeks’. Take the time to think about how you are going to remove the sugar out of your diet, plan alternatives and rewards, like going to see a movie or going out for a special meal when you reach 7 days and you’ve stopped eating ice cream, or the like. 
  • Make it measurable - as above, set a time frame and incidental steps to stop eating sugar. For instance, if you have 2 sugars in your tea, take it to 1.5 in three days, then 1 in seven days, and 0.5 in ten days, and then completely ditch it on day 14. 
  • Be realistic - this is self-explanatory and the reason why we break goals down. Don’t set yourself up for failure, it will only exacerbate your anxiety and your depression. Remember, baby steps. 
  • Set that deadline - realistically. Deadlines keep us focused at work, and they work in our personal lives too. Keeping your eye on the prize keeps you motivated. 
  • Keep a diary, journal, notepad, etc. - but write it down. There are psychological benefits of checklists for motivation and self-accountability. 

Be Kind to Yourself

Self-reflection, quiet time and self love are all beneficial to coping and managing the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and other mental health challenges. 

Writing things down, both systematically and randomly, is often as valuable as talking it out with someone you trust. It’s a chance to offload without judgement and can relieve pent-up emotions and worries. Alternatively, they are also a great way to identify strengths, which means regaining a little control and feeling empowered.

These practices are about self-discovery and personal growth. They are part of a journey, not a solution or an endgame. 

Many people who take up these practices praise the benefits and keep their habit for life

So, be kind to yourself, relax, and enjoy the process. 

Please note: This is practical advice, only. Professional help should be sought if you experience any mental health issues that affect your daily quality of life.