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Active Aging

Take Care of Your Mental Health: How Journaling Can Help

Maintaining your mental and emotional well-being is just as important as staying in good physical shape – especially if you’re 55 and over. You might never miss an annual physical and always go to the doctor when you’re sick – but what do you do to take care of your mental health?

Dealing with chronic illness, mobility limitations, pain, cognitive decline, grief, and isolation can affect your quality of life and cause depression, anxiety, and sleep deprivation. Anxiety and depression, in turn, can adversely affect your physical health and create a vicious negative cycle. That’s why it’s essential to be aware of any changes in your emotional and mental state.

Keeping a journal is a great way to express and understand your emotions and be proactive about your mental health. Research shows that writing down your thoughts and feelings has multiple mental health benefits. Hopefully, learning more about how journaling can help will inspire you to get started.

Global Mental Health Status of Older Adults

The mental health status of older adults has become an area of global and national focus in recent years. According to the World Health Organization, the global population aged 60 and over will increase from 12 percent to 22 percent between 2015 and 2050. Data also shows that 20 percent of adults over 60 live with a mental or neurological disorder. Dementia and depression are the most common issues for this age group, and five to seven percent of the world’s aging population live with these disorders.

Fortunately, the stigma surrounding mental health issues has decreased as more people are willing to share their struggles with others. Thankfully, mental disorders are treatable for people of all ages.

How Keeping a Journal Can Help

Expressing your emotions and putting your thoughts and feelings on paper can help you purge negative emotions. Transferring fear or negative thoughts out of your head and onto a page can clear your mind and help you let them go! Ultimately, when anxiety, fear, and negativity occupy space in your journal instead of your mind, you can find peace and even sleep better. Keeping a journal also relieves stress. Setting aside some time and writing in a quiet place offers a break from obligations and pressures – and gives you some invaluable “me time” to look forward to. It also allows you to organize your thoughts and reflect on an upsetting situation with a fresh perspective. Creating a list of positive affirmations – such as things you like about yourself or achievements you are proud of – can boost your self-esteem. Enjoying these kinds of mental health benefits is well worth the effort.

Photo: Xsandra via gettyimages.com

Additional Benefits to Journaling

Journaling is beneficial in so many ways – but did you know it can help sharpen your mind? By remembering and then recounting events and subsequently writing them down, you’re concentrating and documenting important experiences, which will help you recall them more clearly. Noting as many details as possible about an event – including who you were with, the time, day, and place, the words you exchanged with someone, the smell of a room – exercises different parts of your brain.

Recording happy times can bring you joy, and creating a historical account of your life is a gift you can give to your loved ones. Plus, the physical act of holding a pen and filling pages with words activates different areas of your brain, exercises fine motor skills, and engages your senses – hearing the pen scratch against the page, smelling fresh ink, and more.

You can also fill your journal with drawings and doodles, set goals, track your progress, list your dreams, or write a short story. The creative and practical benefits of journaling are endless!

Getting Started

Starting a journal is simple. Just choose the one you like and put pen or pencil to paper. Leather-bound journals are nice, but a standard spiral notebook works fine. If you kept a diary in your teens, you already know what it’s like to let your written feelings flow. If you’re new to the process, rest assured that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to create entries. It’s your journal, so write what you want. If the blank page is daunting, you can buy a journal that gives you daily writing prompts like “What are you grateful for today?” or “Make a list of 30 things that make you smile.”

Setting a regular time each day to write can help you establish a routine. You should also be flexible and write when the mood strikes. Above all, once you have your book and pen in hand – just start writing – and the good fruits of your effort will follow!

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Active Aging

Mood Tracking 101: Journaling and How to Get Started

Our emotions can change daily, hourly, or even minute-to-minute due to unexpected events that can trigger mood shifts. For instance, you can wake up feeling calm and then get news in a phone call that instantly makes you anxious or sad. On the flip side, receiving a gift basket or a dozen roses can spark joy and brighten an otherwise bleak day!

Feelings are dynamic – they can change for many reasons or no reason at all. If you already keeping a journal, you’re probably recording your thoughts and feelings. If you’re thinking of starting a journal or trying to understand what drives changes in your mood, a mood tracker is a fun and informative tool.

Read on to discover what mood tracking is and how to get started!

What Is Mood Tracking?

Everyone knows what journaling, or keeping a diary, is – but mood tracking is a bit of a different concept. A bullet journal (bujo for short) is a popular modern journaling system that uses bullet points to log daily activities, create to-do lists, set goals, and much more. The concept involves writing a series of short, simple sentences that describe daily events or future tasks instead of writing a long, narrative “story” about an experience.

Mood tracking in a bullet journal is an easy way to keep track of how you feel throughout any given day. Entries can be as simple or as detailed as you want. On the page for January 30th, you might write “phone call with (name here) – happy.” The idea is to track how your mood changes, and why, day to day. 

It’s also helpful to use a colour chart in order to define different emotions. For example, blue = sad, orange = ambitious, red = angry, green = joyful. At the end of each month, you can look back and track how often you felt each emotion, and see if there are any changes you’d like to make.

Remember, it’s your personal record – there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it. The important part is developing a system that’s easy and makes sense to you.

Mood Tracking Benefits

Why should you take time out of your schedule to track your mood? First and foremost, mental wellbeing impacts physical health. Recognizing factors that influence or impact moods and emotions are a crucial way to maintain positive mental health. According to the Mayo Clinic, anxiety can trigger headaches, and excessive stress can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and more. Some people eat more when they’re sad, and others eat less, causing unhealthy fluctuations in body weight. Being in tune with your moods can help you identify triggers and potentially avoid situations that might bring you down, set you off, or cause negative physical consequences. By discovering emotional patterns, you can proactively aim to prevent negative moods.

Do you feel more anxious during work meetings or doctor’s appointments? Do you feel sad during colder temperatures and shorter days of winter? Identifying situational feelings like these, enables you to take positive action. Maybe you’ll take a walk on a sunny winter day to lift your spirits. You could also spend a few minutes meditating before an important conference call.

Overall, mood tracking can help you counteract negative feelings as they arise and boost your mental and physical wellbeing.

Creative Mood Trackers

There are lots of creative ways to track your moods! Here are a few we particularly like:

  1. If you’ve ever enjoyed doing paint-by-number, try making your own colour-by-number mood tracking pictures. Draw or paint a picture of a snowflake or a mountain, and label it with the days of January (1-31). Next, create a colour legend (as described earlier) and colour each numbered section to match your mood.
  2. Blank scrapbook pages filled with photos, drawings, or notes, are another option. Use stickers or paper cut-outs to represent your daily emotions. Ten smiley faces on a June page/drawing means you were happy at least 10 days out of 30 that month!
  3. Collecting coloured marbles or hard candies in a mason jar each day is another out-of-the-box mood-tracking idea. In this case, three watermelon Jolly Ranchers (green = joyful) in a jar with 27 black jellybeans (black = despair) might mean April was a tough month. Compare jar contents each month to identify any emotional trends.

The sky’s the limit in creating a mood tracker that works for you! Create whatever you think you can do consistently and you may start to see patterns in your moods.

Traditional Journals and Digital Options

Many people like to physically write, sketch, and mood tracking in a traditional journal – Moleskine, for example, is a well-known brand. Others prefer keeping a digital diary. Tracking daily, monthly, and yearly moods in an Excel spreadsheet is a fantastic paperless option. Finally, mood tracking apps like MoodKit and MoodTracker are available for iPhone and Android devices.

So grab that bullet journal and few coloured pencils, and start your mood tracking journey now!