Brain dump is an effective journaling exercise to help offload all our thoughts and ideas, process and heal from current and previous stressors and life events and organise and use our time and energy efficiently. Below is a step by step guide on how to start a brain dump journal, the different types and a full list of how it benefits our physical and mental health.
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Jump To Section:-
- What is a brain dump journal?
- Brain dump benefits
- Types of brain dump
- How to do a brain dump (step by step guide)
- Brain dump examples, trigger list & prompts
- How often should I complete a brain dumping journal?
- How long do I brain dump for?
- When is the best time to journal?
- Other health & wellness posts
What Is A Brain Dump Journal?
Brain dump journal is a really easy exercise which involves simply writing down all our thoughts, feelings, ideas, worries and things to do on paper or a computer to get them out into the open rather than keeping them bottled up inside our mind.
Brain Dump Benefits
1). Improves physical and mental health. We live in a world where positivity is embraced and admitting you’re struggling and showing emotion can be perceived as weakness. However, suppressing our feelings places physical stress on our body (1, 2). It activates our sympathetic fight or flight stress response which when remaining active over time can cause numerous symptoms, including:-
- Increased pain & inflammation,
- Increased heart rate,
- Increased fatigue,
- Impaired digestion,
- Impaired sleep,
- Muscle tension,
- Increased anxiety,
Writing down what we’re feeling, currently going through, past events and expressing our thoughts that we’ve bottled up over the years is an effective nervous system reset exercise. It helps our brain process everything and releases high tension energy and stress stored in the body. This allows our nervous system to calm down, our stress response to switch off and has been shown to ease symptoms and improve both physical and mental health by:-
- Improving sleep and digestion,
- Boosting energy, concentration and memory,
- Allowing us to feel calmer and more relaxed,
- Helping us put things into perspective and feel less overwhelmed with anything we’re dealing with (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
2). More organised. Getting everything we need to do out in the open allows us to make a list with the order tasks need to get completed in and put plans in place to accomplish them. This allows us to utilise our time and energy better, feel less overwhelmed with everything we have to do and makes us feel more prepared and motivated to take on these tasks (6).
3). Increases productivity. The busyness of life with multiple commitments can make it difficult to concentrate on what needs to get done each day without our mind running through a list of all the other tasks we need to complete tomorrow and in the weeks and months ahead. Offloading all your thoughts allows you to direct all your energy into the immediate tasks you have to do currently, improving our focus and concentration. Putting plans in place allows us to work more efficiently to increase productivity levels and accomplish everything we need to each day without worrying about other tasks we need to complete in the future (6).
Related post: 6 Daily Habits To Improve Mental Health
Types of Brain Dump
- Emotional dump. Offload about things that have hurt, annoyed and upset you, including situations and emotions you’re currently going through and experiencing or things that have happened anytime in the past. This also includes writing about any insecurities you have or parts of your character you are unsure about or dislike. Write the raw unfiltered truth about how you feel.
- Things to do. Write a list of every single task that needs to be completed that you can think of, whether it needs to be done today or in the weeks or months ahead.
- Gratitude journaling. Write a list of everything in you’re life that you’re grateful for. Being thankful for things in our life can improve physical and mental well-being. If struggling for ideas, this A to Z Gratitude List has some prompts and ideas and this Gratitude Journaling Ideas post has tips to help maximise the benefit of the exercise.
- Miscellaneous. A combination of all of the above types where you write whatever comes into your mind. This is the first type of brain dump recommended to begin organising your thoughts and identifying tasks, situations and emotions that need to be organised and delved into and dealt with further.
How To Do A Brain Dump
Sit down in a place where you’re alone, comfortable and free from distractions. Grab a piece of paper and pen or a computer/laptop and write down all your thoughts and feelings, being as raw, open and honest as possible. Write down every little thought and idea that comes into your mind. It doesn’t need to make sense, flow, be written in complete sentences or be written neatly. It doesn’t matter if you repeat yourself. For example:-
“I keep forgetting to phone Amy. Why can’t I ever get everything done I plan to. I need to book the car in for a service. I’m scared to try anything new in case I fail…”
Continue writing until your mind is clear and you can’t think of anything else to write down.
Brain Dump Examples, Trigger List & Prompts
Current & Previous Events & Situations
Nicole Sachs in Journal Speak recommends listing any current or past event or situation, throughout any time in life from childhood to adulthood, no matter how big or small it seems, that has caused hurt, anger, sadness, stress, embarrassment, anxiety or fear (7):-
- Parents separated or divorced
- Being estranged from a parent
- Being lied to
- Being betrayed
- Being made redundant
- Job difficulties
- Family or friend difficulties
- School difficulties
- Disappointment with exam results
- Argument with someone
- End of a relationship
- Death of loved one
- Negative social media comment
- Finance concerns
- Illness or health worries
- Regret over a decision
- Feeling alone
Any characteristics about you that you’re insecure about, dislike or contribute to the current and past situations above:-
- Not having the ability to say no
- Being a perfectionist
- Fear of failure
- Low self confidence
- Not feeling good enough
2). Things To Do
- Household chores
- Appointments to book – dentist, hairdresser, optician, car service etc.
- Things to tidy
- Shopping – things you need to buy
- Grocery list
- Work meetings, tasks and appointments
- Bills to pay
- People you need to call or arrange to meet
- Emails or messages you need to reply to
- Meal or recipe ideas
- Things you need to plan – holidays, weekend away, gatherings and parties.
- Books to read
- Films and tv shows to watch
- Music you’d like to listen to
3). Goals & Dreams
- Goals you’d like to work towards
- Things you’d like to attend – sporting events, concerts etc.
- Career and job ambitions
- Holidays and places you’d like to visit
- Any new hobbies, classes or courses you want to start
After writing everything down read through what you’ve written and organise your thoughts into lists and categories. Using highlighters and a colour coding system is a great way to clearly sort them into the following categories:-
- Emotional items – current situations, past events and your insecurities and personality traits.
- Tasks that need to be completed today.
- Tasks that need to be completed this week.
- Tasks that need to be completed in future months.
- Long term goals and dreams for the future.
- Shopping list – add groceries and anything else you need to buy. Write a list for each shop and place you need to purchase things from and the date you need to buy them by.
- Recipe meal plan – write down any healthy meals and recipes you’d like to try and create a weekly meal plan. Schedule time in your daily or weekly schedule to research, plan and buy the ingredients and equipment needed, adding them to your shopping lists.
- Gratitude – a list of everything you’re appreciative of.
For the emotional trigger list, complete a further brain dump for each individual item listed. During each brain dump session focus on only one current or past issue or personality trait, describing the issue or trait fully and all your true thoughts, emotions and feelings about it. At the end, after you’ve written down everything you need to, you feel happier about the situation or trait and feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders then throw the piece of paper away or delete the document off your laptop/computer and don’t reread it. At the next brain dump session, repeat the same process for the next item on your list until you have worked through them all.
After completing a brain dump for the emotional trigger list, Nicole Sachs recommends ending with gratitude. This can involve writing down things you’re looking forward to and things in your life you’re appreciative of (7).
Tasks & Goals & Dreams
Small tasks that just need to be actioned and don’t require multiple steps to complete can be added straight to your calendar.
For larger tasks and goals and dreams, which require multiple steps to be completed, complete an additional brain dump breaking the tasks down into smaller more manageable tasks and the steps needed to complete and reach them.
For example, buying a new hairdryer can be added straight to your shopping list while planning a holiday would require a further brain dump with the following potential actions:-
- Research hotels
- Book accommodation
- Arrange transport
- Plan and purchase clothing and any other items needed.
- Find and renew passport if needed
For each individual task, detail the date to complete them by and then add it to your daily, weekly and monthly calendar.
If there are things in your gratitude list that come up repeatedly then scheduling time for these things regularly is one of many effective habits to improve mental health and bring you joy. For example, calling or meeting a valued family or friend member regularly, making time each week for your favourite hobby or playing a song from your favourite album each day.
How often should I complete a brain dumping journal?
This will vary from person to person. Some people find it beneficial to do daily, especially at the start, while others only feel the need to do it once a week or once in a while.
How long do I brain dump for?
Write for however long you need to until you have offloaded everything you need to, you feel calmer and your mind is clear. Some days you may find you only write for a few minutes while other days you may take 20 minutes to get all your thoughts out.
When is the best time to journal?
Brain dumps can be completed and be beneficial any time during the day:-
- First thing in the morning to put you in a better frame of mind and help organise your time efficiently for the day ahead to increase productivity. It’s especially helpful if waking up with anxiety to help ease any worries and fears and start the day in a more positive mindset.
- Last thing in the evening before going to bed as a part of your nighttime routine to sleep better to offload all your thoughts, ease any fears and worries and help you relax to stop you tossing and turning.
- Any point during the day when you have multiple thoughts and ideas running through your mind, when you feel stressed, overwhelmed and are struggling to concentrate.
Starting new habits and routines isn’t always easy. To help regularly implement brain dump journaling, attach it to an existing habit. For example, place your journal on your bedside table and use switching off your alarm as a trigger to remind you to complete your journal practice first thing in the morning or before switching off your light at night as a reminder to perform journaling before bed.
Related post: 3 Tips To Easily Stick To New Habits & Routines
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