The Basics of Mental Health Bullet Journalling

bullet journal week  spread
Photo by Bich Tran, Pexels

I’ve talked about bullet journalling before, but it’s been a while, so I thought I’d talk about it again in this post on the basics and another post on tracking.

My Journalling History

I’ve journalled off and on for most of my life. When I was going to university, I mostly did themed pages devoted to specific things rather than free-writing. After I finished school, I switched to more of a narrative style. Occasionally, I would go back and read older entries, but generally avoided that because they sounded dorky (there’s more on this topic in the post How Do You Feel Looking Back at Old Journal Entries?).

I kept my collection of old journals for years, and then eventually threw them away at one point when I was suicidal and didn’t want anyone finding them if I died. I kind of wish that I’d kept the journals from university, but oh well, what can you do?

Journalling has also been important when I’ve been in hospital. I didn’t keep the free-writing part, but I kept the notes I took about what was happening with my treatment, which was good, because otherwise, I would never have remembered.

I used to travel a lot, and I always kept a travel journal. That journalling was mostly point-form, with lists of favourite foods, favourite places to chill out, and things like that. I’ve kept all of those, and they’re cool to take a look back through.

It was shortly after I started blogging that I first discovered bullet journalling. At the time, I was using a few different apps (Symple, Flo, and Pacifico, which is now Sanvello) to track various things related to my mental health and health activities. A three-app system wasn’t the best, and moving between pages is more involved on an app than on paper, so bullet journalling seemed like it would be a good replacement system.

My bullet journalling style

I’m very non-artistic, so no fancy Pinterest-style bullet journal spreads for me. Coloured pens and stickers is about as fancy as it gets. The stickers I have right now are from Erin Condren and they’re rather fancy; I had an Amazon gift card, so I decided to splurge.

My system has a few different components:

  • monthly overview
  • mood tracker
  • symptom and habit tracker
  • gratitude log
  • weekly overview
  • pages to keep track of health stuff, meds, writing plans, etc.
  • pages for reflection

My current journal has dot grid pages, which is quite a bit easier than lined pages when it comes to setting up my tracker grids. I use colour codes and symbols so I can fit a lot of stuff into a small area (I’ll talk about my tracking system next week).

It works well, because my memory is total crap. I can quickly and easily see patterns of all things health-related. I’ve been using pretty much the same system for the last couple years, so I know exactly where to look for which bits of information.

I do a lot less reflective journalling than I used to, and almost no narrative journalling. Partly that’s because I use the blog to work through things that are going on in my head, and partly it’s because I don’t do much on any given day, so there’s not a lot of stuff happening to think about.

My other journals

So much for one journal replacing a 3-app system… My bullet journal is the main one that I make notes in every day. I also have a therapy journal, which is like a toolbox of therapy skills/exercises/concepts that I find helpful.

I also have two mini-notebooks to keep track of my health history—one is for psych and the other is for physical health. In the past, I was able to remember that stuff reasonably well, but depression has poked more and more holes in my memory as time has gone on, plus there’s more to keep track of the longer I’ve lived with this illness, so writing it down is useful. I started this system a couple of years ago with one notebook, but it got too disorganized for my head to be able to keep track of, so I recently reorganized and divided it up into two notebooks.

Reflective journalling

I know some bloggers use their blog much like a journal. That was never really the direction I wanted to go with my blog, but also, I find it more useful to blog about things after the fact rather than during. In general, I’ve always tended to like having a chance to chew over things in my head before releasing them out into the open. I’m a pretty introspective person, and reflection is a process that’s important to me.

These days, my life is pretty slow, which is how I want it, and that means that there isn’t a lot to work through on a day-to-day basis. In that case, the combination of what I can do in my head plus bullet journalling plus blogging is enough. When more is going on, I’m more likely to return to reflection-oriented journalling. I do it in my bullet journal, and I tend to organize that part by topic rather than by date.

When I journal, I tend to start from a place of confusion and then see what develops as I write. Sometimes I stay confused, while other times, as I write, it’s like a lightbulb goes on and I realize how I want to approach whatever the issue is. Those times when I stay confused, I’ll usually keep coming back to the topic and building on the confused ideas to try to find some clarity.

So, that’s the basics of my journalling system. Do you journal? If so, do you have any kind of system that you use?

41 thoughts on “The Basics of Mental Health Bullet Journalling”

  1. I like the bullet journal method of journaling as well – it allows for so much flexibility. I find habit trackers, and wellness trackers to be very helpful. Looking forward to hearing more about your system.

  2. I don’t journal, only have the blog now. I wish I actually started it earlier but then, what can you do.
    But I don’t think I’d read what I wrote before. It was right at the time, it may not be right now and it would make me feel awkward.

  3. I journal. And blog, but the blog requires things journalling doesn’t, like spelling and grammar checks (I think it’s adorable that I pretend I don’t attend to that in my journals as well). I don’t keep a health journal/mood tracker, and I should. I mostly journal online (Penzu) these days, but I have books I write in (and keep) as well.

      1. I appreciate that. It’s one of the reasons I switched back to notebooks only for a time. Plus, who doesn’t love a new notebook?

        1. My first journal was in an old school exercise book. I then moved on to cheap notebooks. But then someone bought me a lovely notebook that I would never have thought of paying so much for. But then I realised that I was worth it and now I enjoy using a lovely notebook.

          1. It’s such fun picking them out. Looking back at old ones, it’s interesting to see how my preferences changes. The last few years have been all about flowers. 🌺 Though your comment makes me think about the old notebooks I’d forgotten about with affection. Thanks 😊

    1. I don’t know that I’d ever be able to to find a pre-formatted journal that I’d be totally happy with. It takes quite a bit more time to set up my own, but I like being able to have it exactly the way I want it.

  4. I created My Daily Checklist and accompanying recording, for the express purpose of setting myself up to know what’s important or helpful in a given day. But, I used to journal off/on, and I have just found myself more consistent with at least listening to the quotes most every day.

  5. I think bullet journalling is so different for everyone. My way is a bit messy and often ends up like a moodboard full of thoughts and emotions but also full of art and pictures.
    And my blog is more like journal about my life in a organised way.

  6. Funny, somehow you don’t strike me as “non-artistic” with all the impressive colours and pretty aesthetics you use when you create images to illustrate themes in your blog. That’s something I doubt I could ever do — though I think of myself as an Artist in a different sense.

    I don’t bullet-journal, but I do keep an online diary on a certain url that is password-protected and that I permit five people to read. We’re all supportive of each other, but it’s mostly a habit I’ve kept since 2002 (and sometimes break.)

    The diary replaced all kinds of handwritten journals I would keep since I was young. I mostly kept them in spiral notebooks, all of which have been lost, unfortunately. I usually journal to process difficult feelings. Usually at the end of the day, I write more reflectively, considering how I approached certain situations during the day, and how I might adjust or expand upon that for the following day.

    Today I’ve already written in the diary three times. Like I said, five people read it, and one or more may comment. (And vice-versa). It’s all fairly spontaneous and sometimes “stream-of-consciousness,” unlike my blog. I get a little personal in my blog sometimes, I think, but only as personal as I wouldn’t mind discussing with strangers. And sometimes I cross my own lines.

    This could be an interesting miniseries.

      1. I hear you. Many times the stuff is so ugly, I would rather no one see it. That’s why in the past almost 20 years I’ve deleted it many times. Then I’ve also started up many times again. This can be explained either by “addiction,” by my having come to “associate” diary-writing with that site, or both. It’s been a source of frustration in my life from time to time, but my longtime involvement with that site has seemed to rob me of the earlier joy I felt, writing only for myself. On the other hand, the support I receive from these particular five people is of a kind I don’t get elsewhere. So there’s a kinda tradeoff — but it’s still not the same as if the journal were completely private.

          1. The five are an interesting blend. One gay female Christian from Canada, a Catholic NYC cab driver, a bisexual bipolar guy, another musical theatre Musical Director like myself (also gay) and a writer/columnist who was brought up LDS. I’ve known most of them for about fifteen years.

  7. Looking forward to this series 😊 I’ve used bullet journaling before, but done digital planning for almost a year now. Kinda want to go back to pen and paper (stationery lovers hellooo! 🙋🏻‍♀️) but it’s convenient to be able to jot something down in your planner on the go, using my phone so I’m not sure what to do for 2022. I do journal in a regular old-fashioned ”dear diary” style (yup, that’s the start of each entry and has been since I started writing when I was 7 – I’m no 38, but why change a winning concept 🤷🏻‍♀️😅). For regular diary entries, I use a fountain pen, ink in a color I like and a book with paper that is nice 😊

  8. Bullet journaling seems fascinating. I Journal everyday and use the narrative style that you mentioned. Thank you for sharing your setup. Looking forward to learning more about journaling style next week!

  9. I have journaled on and off since the mid 1980s. The style has varied recently but it started as notes to remind myself of prayer times and especially when on retreat I would write loads, often with simple sketches too. Writing was therapeutic and sometimes the pages would be ripped where I was so angry or upset that the pen went through the paper. When I was on the journey towards ordination I had to write about my life which got me started on reflecting on my past. Eventually in about 2011 I started to go through my journals and write more fully about my journey of recovery from depression. The resulting book has meant that I have kept the gist of what was in my journals and I was able to burn the original books. I burnt them in a ritualistic way, as I grieved the death of my marriage, as they represented many years of pain and suffering (there were good times too). Like you, I didn’t want anyone to read them should anything happen to me (ie death). My book lay dormant for a few years but I felt I needed to finish it. It is currently at the publishers and at the proof reading stage (Are we there yet?). Hopefully it will be published at the end of this year/beginning of next. My journalling now has developed into using more art. I still use a nice notebook plus I have artist’s pads for 2 different art & prayer journals. There’s also one I use when doing a mindfulness and art exercise. Like you though I often blog instead of writing in the book. It seems a waste of time to do both. However I prefer to look back through a book than try to find things again on the computer. Blogging also means that I am making my thoughts public rather than private. I wonder if that changes the way that I write?

  10. Bullet Journaling is something that would have been (and arguably would still be) useful for me to take up for the mood/ health habit tracking reasons alone – I’ve noticed over the last few years a tendency towards more frequent awful headaches with no obvious trigger and a doctor had suggested doing something like this.

    I rejected the idea for stupid reasons – mainly that reflexive reaction of hating popular stuff liked on Instagram or Pinterest or whatever because I hate those platforms. Hating that stupid “BuJo” abbreviation. (Of course, there is nothing wrong with lots of people posting about a tool they find helpful; I was being a hater for no good reason). I was also guilty of thinking of myself as too highbrow and intellectual for daily habit journaling; I was a “writer”, I wanted to write ideas, not my health habits. There was also some weirdness around the idea of putting those health habits on paper.

    All that said, I can’t deny that bullet Journaling would be a useful tool. It is stupid to hate on popular things for no good reason.

    1. I don’t do mine the fancy Pinterest-style way. The whole competitive who-can-do-it-the-prettiest thing doesn’t work for me and is a turn-off, so I’ve gone in the opposite direction and focused entirely on functionality.

  11. I do all my journaling on my blog!
    I dont have a bullet journal! I am thinking of starting a file where I will keep track of my meds, changes to them, etc. How I reacted to the increase/decrease, etc. That might be helpful.

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