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The Secret to How Journaling Can Help Manage Your ADHD

A young African American woman is sitting on a couch as she writes in her journal with a pen.

The Secret to How Journaling Can Help Manage Your ADHD

A young African American woman is sitting on a couch as she writes in her journal with a pen.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder wherein the sufferer struggles to regulate attention. This can manifest as being unable to focus, becoming hyper-focused, and anything in between. There is no “cure” but rather a strategic approach to staying organized and retaining control of symptoms. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for managing ADHD, various strategies and tools can make a significant difference. One such tool is journaling.

It may seem like due to the symptoms of ADHD, such as inattention, difficulty with focus and concentration, and time blindness, journaling would be the least effective tool in your ADHD toolbox. But before you cross journaling off your list, let’s explore the benefits of journaling and the five steps you can take to include it in your daily routine.

How Journaling Can Make a Difference

A young girl is sitting on the floor on a  carpet. She has her legs crossed and is writing in her journal.
  1. Self-awareness and self-reflection: Writing down your thoughts, feelings, and experiences can help you gain insight into your ADHD symptoms, triggers, and patterns.
  2. Goal setting and organization: Outline your goals, break them down into manageable steps, and track your progress.
  3. Time management: Create schedules, to-do lists, and reminders.
  4. Emotional regulation: Healthy outlet for processing your feelings, reducing stress, and practicing emotional regulation.
  5. Memory improvement: Regularly jotting down important information, such as appointments, deadlines, and ideas, can serve as an external memory aid, reducing the chances of forgetting crucial details.
  6. Problem-solving and decision-making: Writing can help you analyze situations, brainstorm solutions, and make more informed decisions.

5 Tips for Effective Journaling for Managing ADHD

1) Make it a routine:

A young woman wearing glasses is sitting on her couch with her legs crossed. She is writing on a notepad with a pen.

A cornerstone of ADHD treatment is routine, stability, and predictability. Set aside a specific time each day to journal. If you have to set an alarm, put it on a calendar where you know you’ll see it, leave your journal on your pillow, or do any other trick, do so. Knowing when you are going to journal is one less decision you have to make in your day. If you are always trying to squeeze it in somewhere, then you are weighing it as a priority against other tasks. Not only do you run the risk of opting out of journaling, but making that determination can contribute to the decision fatigue that folks who have ADHD are exceptionally burdened by.

When you look at your schedule, where does journaling fit? Ideally, you can find the same time every day; do you get up before everyone else in your household? Can you find somewhere quiet to go and write while on your lunch break? Does your household settle down after dinner? If you can’t always journal at the same time every day, can you still find places to slot your journaling in? Are you able to adjust something in your schedule so that it is consistent?

Can you tie journaling to something else, such as drinking your favorite tea? Or decide what your weekly treat will be if you’ve written in your journal daily. If you keep an oral history, can you do that while on a walk? Maybe you want to take your journal somewhere you enjoy, like a local park or coffee shop, and make that location part of your routine as well. How you set up your journaling routine is up to you because you are the person who is setting out to write in it every day.

2) Be honest and nonjudgmental:

A woman is sitting on a couch with her feet leaning on the wall. She is holding a cup of coffee is her hands, as her journal is on her lap. She is also holding a pen in her hand.

Sometimes, we struggle to write down the things we feel bad about. Whether we are worried that someone else will read them or whether we feel that writing them down makes them more “true” or “real,” we might be tempted to self-edit our thoughts before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were). When you journal, resist this impulse as much as you can. Be open and honest about your thoughts and feelings, no matter how chaotic or disorganized they may seem. When you attend therapy for ADHD, bring this concept to your therapist. Work together to unlock your permission to write without fear. There may be various exercises you can try.

You may procrastinate about writing in your journal when you are concerned about what you are going to say. Procrastination in ADHD is common, so it is important to eliminate as many of your reasons to do so as possible. You may want to come up with affirmations that you say before or even during your journaling, such as, “This is my safe space to express myself,” or, “I deserve to express my thoughts without judgment or criticism.” After journaling, an affirmation might not address your concerns about what you wrote but simply that you wrote at all: “I am proud of myself for taking the time to practice self-care by journaling.”

If you struggle with judging yourself, try to imagine that your most cherished friend or loved one is reciting to you, and you are transcribing. Would you be as hard on that person as you’re being on yourself? Would you shame that person for their thoughts, struggles, and fears? If you wouldn’t, the next step is transferring some of that grace and empathy to yourself. You deserve to be as supportive of yourself as you would be of someone else.

3) Experiment with formats:

A young Asian American woman is sitting in an outdoor cafe surrounded by beautiful greenery. She is leaning her chin on her hand, with a pen in her other hand. In front of her on the table is an open journal.

Try different journaling formats, such as traditional written journals, digital apps, or voice recordings. Have you heard of Bullet journaling? Bullet journals combine daily, weekly, and monthly formats, art, lists, prompts, and more. They are formatted chronologically and can begin any day, any time (that means you don’t have to wait until January to start yours!). If you are keeping a more traditional journal, get a nice one and write in it. Write in it messily, scratch things out, and use the pages! Writing in the nice journal follows the same self-care school of thought as burning a fancy candle, using nice flatware, and wearing your favorite outfit: life is for living now. Waiting for the “perfect circumstance” will just have you waiting forever.

Find what works best for you. What works best for you is what you will most likely continue doing. Find a space to work in that you enjoy. Light it the way you like. Consider drinking tea while you journal or listen to ambient noise. Create an experience that suits you and feels good.
When considering your format, don’t forget to deliberate about when you will be journaling. If you are using an electronic format before bed, that might impact your ability to fall asleep. If you already deal with revenge bedtime procrastination, adding an electronic pre-bed activity might be piling on to an existing obstacle. An effective sleep hygiene routine often includes a period of softer light overall and giving our eyes a break from blue light before bedtime.

Consider an online journal or Word document if your journaling time isn’t right before bed. Most of us type faster than we can write with our hands. This faster method of taking your thoughts down might help you to get in the zone that works best for you. You may want to keep your journal as a private blog, adding pictures and links. You may want to keep an ongoing document that you add to the beginning of instead of the end so that your latest entry is always at the top.
Remember: if one format isn’t working for you, you can change what you are doing. You can even change to something else, then go back. It’s more important that you stick to journaling than it is that you decide in advance what will work best for you and stick to it no matter what.

4) Keep it simple:

A young Indian woman is sitting at a a cafe writing in her journal. On the table are a coffee cup and a salad.

Refrain from overwhelming yourself with elaborate journaling techniques. Start with basic prompts and gradually incorporate more complex exercises if desired. A Bullet journal is a great idea in theory – if you’ll never start because you’re too focused on creating the perfect aesthetic, it’s useless. The concept of answering the same three questions every day to see how your answers change might pique your curiosity – or you may soon feel bored of the repetitiveness.

To keep things simple, determine for yourself what you think you most want to get out of journaling. If it’s a place to unload all your concerns and stresses, then the simplest way to approach it is to sit down and let yourself go. You might start each entry with, “I overcame a lot of struggles today…”

If you want a place to organize yourself, make sure you have prompts that align with that. They might talk about three plans you have for the next day and something you’re not going to forget. For example, you might note that you will go to yoga, meal prep, and do laundry tomorrow, and you’re not going to forget about your sibling’s birthday on the weekend.

Your journal may be somewhere you dedicate to the thoughts and feelings that arise when you’re in therapy for ADHD or the issues you want to bring to therapy. Treatment for ADHD happens in and out of the therapist’s office, and journaling can be a great tool for reflection. You might not realize the progress you are making until you free-write and read back over your entry. Or you may unlock the words for how to describe your struggles to your therapist.

You may use your journal for a combination of all these things; day-to-day, you may decide that you’d prefer to write one way or the other. What’s important is that you choose a technique that feels straightforward to think about so that you don’t put off journaling because you’re not sure where to begin your entry.

5) Seek support:

In this image we see two women in a therapy office. The client is sitting on the couch with her legs up, writing in her journal. Her therapist is sitting across from her in a chair, working on her computer.

Share your journaling journey with a therapist or support group. They can offer guidance and encouragement as you work through your ADHD-related challenges. We see many people here for ADHD therapy in Woodland Hills; their support network can make a huge difference in how they feel. A journal isn’t meant to be a tool that you utilize in order to hide away your feelings; it is meant to assist you in identifying and sorting out your feelings. From there, it is up to you to determine if/how/when to share with others.

Hopefully, the people involved in your day-to-day life are supportive of your journaling. If you have a partner, include them in the importance of taking that time. How can the two of you arrange your schedules so that you can make sure to journal every day? Can you be on-call for obligations at one point in the day so that your partner can do some self-care and then take your turn later while journaling? Depending on your household, communication and a plan can go a long way toward making sure that you have the support you need to keep journaling.
If you find it hard to stick to your planned journaling schedule, your support group might help to encourage you, and you might be able to help someone else in turn. An accountability buddy can make a big difference when building a daily habit. Whether you simply update this person that your entry is done or whether you decide to share a win you identified, a decision you made, or an epiphany you experienced, making journaling a bit of a team effort can definitely make it easier to stick to. If you struggle to put self-care habits in place, knowing that someone else is invested in your success might help to reinforce your understanding of how important it is to take care of yourself in whatever way(s) work(s) best for you.

If you find that your ADHD creates a lot of chatter in your mind, learning how to sit down and focus your thoughts in a journal is a great way to handle that. Journaling is a mindful and meditative activity. When done daily, it can help you to stay present; even though you are reflecting and looking back after the fact, it is relatively soon after it has occurred. Taking the time to unpack your day can help you to move forward from it in a positive way. You will also likely discover that you become more grounded in the present when you know that you are going to be journaling in a few hours. You can take note of how you are feeling and what you are experiencing, knowing that you will have some quiet time to yourself to work through anything that arises. What you discover when you are journaling may lead you to make adjustments to your self-care routine. You might determine that a specific routine helps you get better sleep, that the time of day you exercise improves your mood and more. Your journal is for you to look out for yourself, provide yourself with support, and give yourself permission to feel and think whatever comes naturally. You are worthy of that care and of that permission.

ADHD Treatment at Embracing You Therapy

It could feel like there are just too many tools out there telling you how to manage your ADHD symptoms. It can be daunting and overwhelming to know where to begin. When you seek ADHD Treatment in our offices in Woodland Hills, we are not just here to add more tools to your toolbox but also to collaborate with you on how to organize all these tools so that they make sense for your life and get you where you want to go in life. Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Admin Team today!

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