How & Why to Start a Bullet Journal for Self-Care

Happy New Year! Going into 2019, I’m equipped with a secret weapon for productivity, organization, health and self-care. That secret weapon, as it was in 2018, is my bullet journal – and this post is all about how and why to start one of your own in the New Year.

I’ve kept a bullet journal on-and-off since I was sixteen (that makes four-going-on-five years now!), but I wasn’t able to stick with it for long periods of time. Truth is, I followed way too many Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube accounts that put my dinky little bullet journal to shame. Once I gave up on the idea that my bullet journal had to be perfect, I was able to embrace it as the tool for health, productivity and mental well-being that it is – and very well should – be.

Hence, today I am sharing the why and how of starting a bullet journal ritual for self-care, and some of my favorite products and inspiration to get you started. My BuJo journey has been long but rewarding, as I’m sure yours will be, too. Above all else, however, I hope that it will help you manifest everything you want to achieve in 2019!

What is a Bullet Journal?

If you spend way too much time on the Internet (like most of us, including me, probably do!), you’ve definitely seen the words “bullet journaling” and “BuJo” thrown around over the past couple of years. Maybe you’ve even seen some elaborate pictures of hand-illustrated bullet journals and thought, Holy shit, there’s no way I can do that.

Well, I’m here to clear that myth up for you: actually, you can! In truth, there are no hard-and-fast rules for bullet journaling. You can put as little or as much effort and detail as you want into creating a bullet journal.

So, at the end of the day, what is a bullet journal, actually? It’s a DIY planner with “layouts” you sketch in a notebook. Every bullet journal should have a few basic parts (though there’s no rule saying that you have to have all of these in your BuJo):

  • An index, or table-of-contents labeling the page numbers of your bullet journal.
  • future log, or overview of the next few months where you can log important upcoming events (such as birthdays or family vacations).
  • Cover pages to signify the beginning of a new month. (These can be as decorative or as simple as you like.)
  • Weeklies and/or dailies where you can note any to-dos, appointments, notes or events you need to take care of this week/today.
  • Finally, collections, which are pages that don’t fit into any of the above categories. This is a way to incorporate all those random lists you have laying around – such as “movies I want to watch,” “books I want to read” or “goals I have for the future” – into one organized, #aesthetic notebook.

The Mental Benefits of Bullet Journaling

When you treat bullet journaling as something that has to be perfect – something you do for the Instagram likes or Pinterest shares – it isn’t fulfilling its potential to be a tool for mental health and self-care. However, when your BuJo is something you do for yourself and for no one else, it can be a powerful weapon against depression, anxiety and chronic illness.

Because bullet journals are so easily personalized, you can easily add collections to facilitate mental health and recovery. For example, I’ve tried creating Mood Trackers for keeping track of the ebbs and flows of my depression, as well as Anxiety Logs for keeping track of triggering thoughts and reframing them in an organized space. Now that I am struggling with chronic GI symptoms, I keep a Symptom Log in my journal of how I’m feeling, how much pain I’m in and what I’m experiencing on a day-to-day basis.

Not only can this be incredibly helpful for you to gauge how you’re doing, but your self-awareness can even help your healthcare team glean a more accurate picture of what’s going on in your brain or body.

And let’s not forget the benefits of creative projects like bullet journaling on our brains. There’s a reason why art therapy is so popular for depression and anxiety. Sketching, drawing and coloring – as one does in one’s bullet journal – is a mindful, therapeutic activity.

By carving space in your routine for bullet journaling, you’re therefore making time to exercise your creative muscles and give your brain a break from all the stress of the week thus far.

Bullet Journal Inspiration

So, you’ve learned what a bullet journal is and how you can use it for self-care. Now what? If you want to start bullet journaling, but have never made a BuJo before, the process can appear overwhelming!

First thing’s first: don’t search Pinterest for bullet journal inspiration. Take it from someone who has experienced BuJo envy firsthand: the Pinterest FOMO will quickly make you believe your bullet journal is inadequate compared to everyone else’s Insta-worthy pages.

At the end of the day, bullet journaling is about blending function and fun to create something that’s unique and works for YOU. Thus, I don’t recommend making an exact copy of anyone else’s design….but then again, a little carefully-placed inspo never hurt anyone, either!

Below, you’ll find a few snapshots of my favorite simple, clean bullet journal layouts to help jump-start your BuJo journey.

Oh, and if you’re a visual learner and want something to follow along with as you’re creating, I highly recommend watching a tutorial on YouTube! My favorites are Lucie Fink’s 5 Days of Bullet Journaling and Seventeen Magazine’s How to Start a Bullet Journal.

Most importantly, never forget the number one rule of bullet journaling: let go of the idea that you can somehow “mess up” your bullet journal. Because, in the words of the great Bob Ross, there’s no such thing as a mistake in art. Only happy accidents!

(Disclaimer: All the following photos were sourced from Pinterest.com. If you recognize one of these photos as your own and would like it credited or removed, please reach out to let me know!)

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Tag me on Instagram so I can see pics of your Bullet Journal! @cozycounselor

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