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 are well worth the effort.

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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. One study even showed that journaling helps wounds heal faster.

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 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!