You may have heard about the idea of a bullet journal, which is a method of journaling that has been all over the web as of late.
If you're not familiar with it, you can learn all about what it is and how to start one here.
Bullet journals are amazing for tracking tasks, thoughts, activities, and life events, so they lend themselves really well to recording info about your physical and mental health.
But! Before we go any further, we wanted to say this: The main thing about your journal is that it should be real.
That said...we both do choose to put time and effort into our personal journals because we like it and find that that's helpful on multiple levels. And clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior, PhD, tells BuzzFeed that the mere act of bullet-journaling can be really meaningful, especially if you're going through a rough time.
"When your life and emotions feel so out of control or chaotic, there is something immensely therapeutic about organizing it into a systematic structure like a bullet journal," she says. "You lay things out in an aesthetically pleasing way and already it feels more manageable. Like you can really tackle it and make it through. It feels luxurious, too. It’s like saying, 'I’m worth it. I’m worth this notebook and the time it takes to turn it into something beautiful.'”
Whether or not you turn your journal into something ~beautiful~ is up to you! In the meantime, here are some ways to make it helpful and effective for tracking your mental health.
This is one of the most popular functions of bullet-journaling for mental health. There are a few different ways of organizing it (like daily, weekly, monthly) and lots of things you might want to keep track of. Here are some different ways of doing it, with sample layouts for each...
1. You can create a monthly habit tracker to easily see everything at a glance.
2. First, you're going to want a place to track how you're feeling physically.
3. Next, consider tracking habits and behaviors — good and bad — that can affect your mental and physical health.
4. But before you start tracking your habits, set realistic goals so you don't get discouraged if you have an off day (or two or seven).
It's only natural that you want your tracker to look perfect or to reflect your ~best self~ — and to fall into all-or-nothing thinking. "You're going to be tempted to be like, 'Oh, I filled in that box. I drank too much. Now the seal has been broken and I ruined it. Now I may as well just drink tomorrow, too,'" says Bonior.
To help, make sure you're setting realistic goals. Ask yourself: What do I want this chart to look like a month from now? Am I going to be OK with not having totally abstained from this behavior or done this healthy thing every day? Don't set yourself up for failure by expecting your habit tracker to reflect a lifestyle that's unattainable.
5. Next, you can note your moods.
6. Then you can expand on any of these things either in your daily spread, or set up a couple separate pages that are just for these notes.
7. Instead of the monthly layout (or in addition to it), you can also create spaces to track all of these habits on your daily spread. Here's an example of what that could look like:
8. Here's another super-simple daily layout for tracking some of the things mentioned above:
PS: Here's how it looks when you add your notes to it.
9. If setting up a layout like that each day seems stressful or you don't have time for it, you could try a weekly version instead, like this:
Here's a closer look:
10. Here's another weekly option:
Beyond tracking your daily habits, there are other cool/smart/helpful things you can do with your bullet journal. Like...
11. Instead of making a daily to-do list, make a "done" list.
12. Set up a gratitude log each month.
13. Make rant boxes for the days when you just can't with the world.
14. Create a template for debriefing after therapy sessions.
15. Try a food-tracking layout to keep track of nutrition and be more mindful of your eating habits or patterns.
16. If you're artistically inclined, give yourself a little space to doodle every day.
17. If you always struggle to think of things to write about in a journal, create a page with some go-to prompts:
18. Add additional symbols to your key to denote important things.
19. Make a page you can refer to when everything is terrible and you need ideas for self-care.
And, finally, one more reminder: Your journal is for you and no one else.
A bullet journal should really truly have the nitty-gritty of you, so don't put form over function. As Bonior explains, "If you’re so concerned with washi tape and calligraphy, and you screwed up behaviorally, it’s going to be tempting to be like, 'Maybe I won’t put that in there, because I don’t want to taint this journal that’s supposed to be a beautiful thing with my negative behavior or my sad thoughts.'”
"But once you get in the habit of not being real within your journal, it defeats the purpose," she says. So make your goal something like, "Sure, I want this to be beautiful, organized, and reflect that I’m doing well — but more than that, my goal is that it actually represents my life and helps me work on things and do better.”