Keeping a journal is great for your mental health. In fact, journaling for mental health is one of the top natural remedies for mental health struggles, next to talk therapy through a counselor and exercise for mental health.
Journaling is the process of regularly expressing and recording your thoughts, feelings, desires, memories, ideas, and more on paper in a notebook. It’s a great way to improve your mental health, and a fantastic way to get to know yourself better.
Although you could use a digital notebook, handwritten journals are much more thought-provoking, therapeutic – and let’s face it: we get enough screen time as it is.
By frequently journaling, you can go on a journey of self-discovery, supercharge your mental wellness, become self-motivated to make changes for the better, and transform your life.
Why Journaling for Mental Health is So Effective
Science says journaling reduces the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. A journal is an effective outlet for processing complex emotions. One study revealed that participants who made journaling a ritual experienced a considerable decline in symptoms of anxiety and depression compared to those who didn’t journal.
Using a journal, you can make sense of intense, complicated or confusing emotions and find healthy ways to cope with them. In turn, this will help calm your anxiety, manage stress, help you learn how to let go, and reduce the effects of depression.
What’s more, journaling can help you ace your goals. By jotting down your goals and frequently tracking your progress, you can remain focused and driven and eventually be able to reach your dreams. Research shows that students who wrote about their goals and commitments in a journal were better able to crush them.
Keep reading to learn about top tips to begin journaling for mental health.
Use Journal Prompts
Are you wondering how to journal, or what exactly you should write about in your journal? Journal prompts are great tools for collecting your feelings and thoughts, while provoking you to think deeper and more clearly.
Prompts steer you towards emotional expression, self-reflection, self-awareness, self-improvement, and other goals. If you feel stuck and don’t have a clue about where to start, don’t fret.
The internet is full of free journaling prompts that can give you endless ideas on days when you don’t know what to write about.
You could buy a guided journal with prompts already printed on the pages, but you don’t need to.
Here are some journal prompts to help you get started with journaling for mental health:
- Write an unsent letter to your ex (to help yourself let go)
- Make yourself five promises. Detail each one (with a plan of action for each)
- What are the list of things you’re currently very grateful for?
- What do you love about your life currently?
- Who is supporting you at this point in your life, and why do you value them?
- What do you wish you could change in your life, and what’s needed to change those things?
- Are there some negative thoughts that keep cropping up? (Challenge each negative thought)
- What area of your life feels like it’s spinning out of control?
- Given the chance, what would you want to attain in your life?
- What’s holding you back from achieving your goals?
- What do you value the most in a friend?
- What are your positive habits?
- Are there any assumptions people make about you?
- When the going gets tough, what should you remind yourself?
- What are your most outstanding qualities, and why are you thankful for them?
- Describe what your perfect day would look like
- Do you have favorite coping mechanisms? Are they helpful?
- What were the highs and lows of your day?
- What tends to regulate your nervous system?
- 10 random facts about yourself (getting to know yourself 101)
- Is there something you dwell on that fuels your anxiety or stress?
- Do you wish to improve any relationships in your life? What went wrong, and how can you mend them?
You don’t need to answer prompts perfectly. You can use them as diving boards to jump into other things to explore. In other words, see where your thoughts lead you, even if you’re off-topic, and just go with the flow.
Remember not to censor anything when journaling. It’s always best to be completely honest with yourself. Also, don’t worry about perfect grammar, punctuation, tone, or spelling. The most important thing is to voice your feelings and thoughts in an intentional way.
What Type of Journaling is Best For You?
There are various types of journaling, each with its own benefits for your mental health.
Examples of methods of journaling for mental health improvement include:
- Gratitude Journaling (keep track of and remind yourself of what you’re grateful for to increase positive thoughts. Research shows that practicing an attitude of gratitude provides incredible mental health benefits such as reduced anxiety, better sleep, and increased feelings of happiness. This form of journaling is great for people who tend to have a cynical or negative outlook on life.)
- Stream of Consciousness Journaling (this type of journaling can be very interesting. It often works best first thing in the morning, where you write ‘free pages’ with no plan of what to write – just whatever comes to mind. Stream of consciousness journaling helps you figure out what’s really going on deep down inside. It’s an unedited, unfiltered, authentic version of you, and when your thoughts flow freely onto the page without a plan, you’ll learn a lot about yourself. This type of journaling is great for self-discovery.)
- Fear Journaling (conquer your fears by writing them down in your journal and challenging them. Write about your fears, the worst-case scenario, and write down why you’d still be okay. You might find out that a lot of your fears are baseless, or not as bad as you thought. This journaling method is great for fighting anxious thoughts and overcoming both fear and anxiety.)
Now that we’ve covered some different types of journaling, let’s go over some of the most common how-to-journal FAQs:
When is the Best Time of Day to Journal?
No set time is perfect for everyone. The time that works best for someone else to journal might not be your ideal time to journal. So if you’re a first-timer, try journaling in the morning, and also try in the evening, then weigh the pros and cons of both.
You may discover that journaling in the morning helps you set a great tone for the rest of the day. Or, you might realize that night journaling allows you to de-stress and have a refreshing and very good night of sleep.
Of course, you’re free to journal at any time, not just in the morning or evening. The best time really depends on you. Some people simply open up their journal whenever they suddenly feel the need to express something, which works great.
One of the benefits of scheduled journaling such as ‘morning pages’ or ‘bedtime journaling’ is that it helps you remember to journal every day.
How Often Should I Be Journaling for Mental Health?
How often should you be journaling if you want to reap the mental health benefits of this practice? You should strive to journal for at least 20 minutes per day, three to five times per week if you can’t commit to daily journaling. Research shows that journaling for mental healtthree to five times per week can significantly improve your mood as well as help you overcome psychological trauma.
How Many Journals Should I Keep?
There are different types of journals such as a gratitude journal, a dream journal, a self-reflection journal, and more. This is why a common journaling question is, How many journals do I need? Do I need to have different journals for different purposes?
Everyone’s journaling process is unique. So ditch the guilt of not doing what others are doing.
You may find it more beneficial to maintain multiple journals, each with its own purpose, or cram everything into one journal. Feel free to choose the most convenient option for you.
If you choose to use one journal for everything, you could always write a title at the top of your page such as “gratitude pages” or “fear reflection” etc. to keep your journal organized in case you want to go back and read old entries. This brings us to our next common FAQ when it comes to journaling for mental health:
Should I Read My Old Journal Entries?
Yes. Old journals and old journal entries are hidden gems. You can discover a lot of things by re-reading old journals, including:
- What’s worked for you and what hasn’t
- The progress you’ve made
- Lessons you learned that you could remind yourself about
- What needs to remain a daily focus
- What still requires work
- How your attitude and mental goings-on (desires, thoughts, intentions, and perceptions) have changed over time
More people should re-read old journal entries, as it can be very impactful and helpful. You could always set reminders to read old entries every six months.
Want to Get to Know Yourself Even Better?
It goes without saying that journaling is a great way to get to know yourself better, which helps you find direction in life and master self-love.
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