Equal parts planner, journal, and tracker, bullet journals are often used to help people get organized so that they’re better able to reach their goals.
They can be a wonderful tool for creating healthy changes, changing habits, and keeping track of the tasks you’ve completed every day.
A bullet journal can also promote mental well-being by being a place for you to put your thoughts and feelings down on paper.
By using your journal to sort out your emotions—and track your efforts in managing your stress, depression and/or anxiety—you’re likely to feel more empowered and better able to control your mental well-being.
Benefits of Journaling
Recent studies suggest that writing about your emotions can deliver considerable benefits. In a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2013, for instance, 40 people with major depressive disorder either engaged in “expressive writing” which involved writing about their deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding an emotional event or simply wrote about a non-emotional event that had taken place.
After completing a 20-minute-long writing session daily for three consecutive, those who wrote about their emotions had a significant decrease in depression.
Journaling is thought to boost your mental well-being in part by helping you confront and release negative emotions, such as anger, jealousy, and fear. It can also help you to gain more clarity about your emotional state, as well as allow you to identify potentially damaging behaviors (and explore ideas on how to change those behaviors).
And with a bullet journal, you get the added bonus of closely tracking factors like your daily symptoms and triggers—an essential part of understanding and better managing your mental well-being.
Getting Started with a Bullet Journal
There are countless online resources that can show you step by step how to set up your bullet journal (including the website of Ryder Carroll, the New York-based designer who developed the system). You can also look at Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration.
Just don’t get overwhelmed by the ornate designs—while you don’t need to draw or create elaborate layouts, many people find drawing in their journal a satisfying creative activity.
Once you get started on your bullet journal, focus on the mental health goals you’d like to work on. These can be shorter-term goals, long-term goals, or a combination of the two.
Making them as clear and specific as possible will help you break each down into smaller, more manageable goals.
If you have trouble coming up with goals, try starting by taking an inventory of the different areas in your life.
Here are ideas on what you can include. You don’t have to do all of them—just pick and choose what will work best for you (and don’t be afraid to experiment).
1. A Daily Log (With a Self-Care or Mental Well-Being Component)
A standard feature of most bullet journals, a daily log lets you list the tasks you set out to do each day and log what you’ve accomplished. It also gives you a great opportunity to build healthy goals into your daily routine.
For example, you might consider filling your daily log with items such as taking 15 minutes to meditate, going to an exercise class, or going to bed by a certain time, all of which can help you manage your stress and elevate your mood.
2. A Self-Care Habit Tracker
Usually set up as a chart, a habit tracker allows you to follow a number of factors that can influence your mental well-being on a daily level, such as:
- Alcohol or caffeine consumption
- Social engagement
- Stress levels
By completing out your tracker each day, you may be able to see patterns and gain insight into the behaviors that influence your mental well-being.
3. An Emotional Trigger Tracker
Since monitoring your mood can be crucial to managing your mental well-being, you may want to create a separate chart to track your emotions. Ask yourself—what are you feeling and why? Are you feeling angry, sad, afraid, guilty, shame, panic, hurt, jealous, neglected, unhappy, bitter, frustrated, or something else?
Some trackers involve assessing your mood on a scale of 1 to 10, while others highlight specific emotions and encourage a more detailed evaluation of the possible triggers.
Examples of triggers include:
- The anniversary of traumatic event or loss
- Hearing disturbing news
- Being criticized or insulted
- Being ill
- Not being accepted
- Feeling misunderstood
- Not in control
- Feeling like you are not safe
- Being in a chaotic environment
- Feeling excluded
- Not feeling valued
An emotion may not be precipitated by a situation or event, so don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t identify a trigger.
5. An Action Plan
As you create your bullet journal, remember that it can also enhance your experience with therapists and other mental health professionals. For example, an action plan to deal with feelings of anxiety can include:
- Tell a loved one how I am feeling
- Take three 10-minute mindfulness breaks every day
- Take a walk outside
- Focus on one word that represents how I want to feel
- Check in with my doctor or other health care provider
When the anxiety gets worse, the action plan can include:
- Call doctor
- Arrange for someone to stay with me
- Arrange for people to take over some of my responsibilities
In addition to sharing any journal-related insights with your care provider, you can use your bullet journal to process your latest therapy session and hone in on what’s most important to you in working toward better mental health.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which features best suit your needs and personality. Beyond the basics like a daily log, you could include such items as a gratitude log, a self-care plan, and blank pages where you can write about whatever’s on your mind.