Struggling With Depression? Here's How Journaling Can Help

Photo: Joao Silas

According to the CDC, one out of every five Americans struggles with mental illness. But in reality, that number is likely much higher. Here at mindbodygreen, we know that a mental health struggle—whether it be anxiety, depression, PTSD, panic attacks, or a diagnosis like bipolar disorder—can teach us more about life, health, and ourselves than we ever thought possible. So in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re sharing personal stories and lessons from those who have been there. Together, we’ll continue to add to the honest and open conversation about mental health.

An estimated 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. To give you some perspective, that's 5 percent of the population. There's no question that depression is fairly common, and there's no one-size-fits-all way to manage it. One tactic that's proved to be helpful, however, is journaling: Not only can it ease symptoms of depression, but it can help manage anxiety, reduce stress, and help you prioritize and sort through exactly what's getting you down.

In fact, in her book Option B, Sheryl Sandberg frequently writes about how much journaling helped her sort through and cope with her grief after the sudden loss of her husband. "Journaling can be a useful tool for all of us including for those times when we are depressed," explains Linda Carroll, M.S. "It can be a place to express ourselves as long as we are not judging ourselves." We know journaling works, but how can you make it work for you? Here's what the experts have to say.

Use journaling to track patterns in your mood.

Alison Stone, LCSW, suggests using journaling as a way to track patterns in mood to help identify how to best manage your depression. "I find this to be especially helpful when I'm trying to point out the correlation between a patient's diet and mood," she explains. "If someone says to me that they feel depressed every afternoon, I'm going to recommend they start noticing what they eat for breakfast and lunch as well as their caffeine intake. Many symptoms of depression are linked to gut health, but most of the time, people are not paying attention to any possible correlation. So journaling is a great way to begin tracking this."

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Journaling for gratitude.

Stone also recommends keeping a gratitude journal. While depression can make it harder to see what is going well in your life and make your struggles all too apparent, cultivating a gratitude practice can help you see the picture of your life from a more balanced perspective, which may help ease your symptoms. "I think it's helpful to anyone and everyone," she says. "There's evidence now that it is physiologically impossible to be simultaneously stressed and grateful. Depression is more complicated because most of the time—unlike stress, which can be acute but temporary—it permeates and can last for days and months at a time. Do I think you can be depressed and grateful at the same time? Yes. But can journaling every so often about things you are grateful for, even while struggling with depression, be helpful? That's also a yes."

When journaling can do more harm than good.

Like most things, if journaling is done incorrectly, it won't yield the best results. While writing through difficult emotions and feelings can be a helpful way to vent, there is such a thing as overdoing it. "It can be tempting to use our notebooks to write about the hardest things, feelings, and thoughts in our lives," explains Carroll. "So while it's important to express our sadness and to have a place to put down any thoughts of despair, it is also important to include some self-appreciation and gratitude for the things that are going well in our lives."

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Establishing a regular meditation practice can drastically improve your health, and so can choosing the right foods. Ready to learn more about the power of food? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.

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