The Benefits of Journaling for Mental Health
Starting a regular journaling routine has many benefits for our mental health. Here are 7 reasons to give it a try:
1. Discover more about ourselves
Keeping a diary or journal invites us to deepen our understanding of who we are and who we want to be. We start seeing patterns in what’s important to us. What makes us happy or upset? What inspires us? It’s an opportunity to celebrate our successes and realize our talents. It can support us in creating balance in our lives and build confidence. This is where journaling prompts can be so effective. You may be surprised at what you discover!
2. Solve problems
Writing can help us focus on a challenge, brainstorm answers, and develop our action plan. According to PsychCentral, we usually problem solve using our left-brained more analytical side. Journaling can unlock our right-brained creative and intuitive side, giving us an opportunity to find new solutions to our problems.
3. Improve our relationships
Our journals give us a private space to explore our relationships and clarify our thoughts, feelings, and expectations. Writing about an argument can also help us understand and empathize with that person’s feelings and choices. This might be hard when our own feelings are hurt but could be just what we need to find a resolution and build a stronger connection.
4. Give our mood a boost
More and more research shows how writing about positive experiences and emotions can make us happier and less depressed. A study by Dr. Michael Smith and his colleagues divided participants into two groups. The first group was asked to write about their most wonderful experiences for 20 minutes each day for three days. The other group wrote about a neutral topic like their daily plans. They measured anxiety levels before and after each session. Four weeks later, the participants did another report on their levels of stress, anxiety, and physical health. Those who wrote about positive experiences felt significantly less stressed and anxious than the control group.
The science also shows how powerful a gratitude writing practice can be. Counting our blessings can make us happier, confident, less stressed, and improves our health. Gratitude can even rewire our brains to feel thankful more often creating long-lasting benefits to our mental health.
5. Worry Less
Journaling can be a good mindfulness practice to center us on the present and away from that fret frenzy of future worries. Seeing my concerns on paper gave me a new perspective. I was able to identify the many unhelpful assumptions fueling my anxiety. It can also be an amazing tool for identifying our anxiety triggers, giving us an opportunity to find new ways to overcome them.
6. Let go of stress
Writing about stressful events is a great way to release all those bottled up feelings that affect our wellbeing. According to a study at the University of Iowa, journaling is thought to work by helping us release tension, give us a sense of control over stressful events, but also works to desensitize us to what has happened. The researchers found that ‘thinking’ through our experiences as well as expressing our emotions had the most impact. Participants were asked to keep a journal of their deepest thoughts and feelings about an event that still upsets them. They were then asked to explore how they tried to make sense and deal with the situation and in turn, how their feelings changed. Those who did showed more positive personal growth over time.
7. Journaling is good for our health!
Dr. James Pennebaker’s research on journaling revealed expressive writing about traumatic or stressful experiences can also benefit our health! Participants spent 3-5 days writing about these kinds of difficult events for about 15-20 minutes. The other group wrote objectively about topics without talking about their feelings. The ‘feeling’ writers had:
- a stronger immune system
- better sleep
- improved mood
- lower blood pressure
- their lungs and liver worked better
- increased memory and performance in school
- less pain from chronic diseases
Why does journaling make us healthier? Dr. Pennebaker suggests expressive writing gives us closure and allows our brain to finally rest. Until then, our brain keeps ruminating on the same distressing thought patterns.
How to Start a Mental Health Journal
My Top Mental Health Journaling Prompts
Journal Prompts for Anxiety
- What is something you want to do but are too scared to try? Write about why you’re afraid. List 2 steps you can take this week to conquer your fear.
- What unhealthy habits do you want to change? How would things be better if you stopped these behaviors? Now decide what steps you will take to create new healthy routines instead.
- Remember a time when you faced a problem. Describe it in detail. What happened? Who was involved? Now write a letter to the person you were at the time. What have you learned that you would tell yourself?
- What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?
- Write about a time you accomplished something you didn’t think was possible. What did you learn about yourself?
- What media and information sources are fueling your anxiety? How might you limit your time and exposure to these triggers while staying informed and connected to others?
- Make a list of all your worries in this moment. After reading your list, write about all the things you can do in response that are within your control. Next time you’re worrying, remember your new list and focus on those things.
- Describe something you are very anxious about. What evidence supports your anxiety? What evidence counters it? How might you react if you were feeling more relaxed?
- What people, activities, or objects give you comfort and keep you the most grounded in life?
- How is your life better today than it was last year?
Journal Prompts for Depression
- What lies does your inner critic tell you? How is this negative self-talk holding you back?
- Create a list of all the ways you feel connected to your loved ones.
- What are 5 things you can do to support yourself when you’re feeling sad or insecure?
- Describe a time you felt really appreciated and loved.
- Think of a time when a loved one was feeling bad about themselves. How would you support them? What would you do? What would you say? Now think about those times when you’re feeling bad about yourself. How do you treat yourself? How would things change if you reacted to yourself the same way you cared for your loved one?
- Make a list of all your skills and talents that you’re proud of. Don’t be bashful!
- Create a list of all the little things that make you smile. Make it as long as you can! Now make a plan to do your top 10 within the next 10 days.
- Write about 5 of your favorite songs. How do they make you feel? What do the lyrics mean to you? Can you remember the first time you heard each song? What were you doing at the time? Who was with you? Make time to listen to one of these songs today!
- Write a 100 things you enjoy list.
- Write about the last time you couldn’t stop giggling.
Journal Prompts for Self-Discovery
- What do you wish other people knew about you?
- Create your own life purpose statement. What do you want to achieve? What do you want to stand for?
- Make a list of your values and why they are important to you.
- Which people in your life inspire and empower you the most? Write a letter thanking them for the impact they’ve had on your life. (You don’t have to send it.)
- Write a letter of forgiveness for something you judge yourself for or regret.
- What does happiness mean to you?
- What new activities or hobbies would you like to try this year? What do you need to do to make this happen?
- What is your favorite part of your body and why?
- List 3 things about your daily routine that you really appreciate.
- Describe your perfect day. What would you do? What would you eat? Who would you spend it with? (It’s okay if you want some alone time!)
LEARN MORE …
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Recommended mental health journals and workbooks:
If you like these journaling prompts for mental health, please share and pin this post for others! And then take a look at my post on Journaling for Health Anxiety and the journal prompts I use to work through my health concerns.
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Journaling for mental health has many benefits, but it’s not a substitute for receiving professional guidance from a therapist. A therapist may give you instructions on how to structure your journal to complement your therapy sessions. As always, please consult a qualified health-care professional if you have any concerns about your mental or physical health.
Baikie, K., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11(5), 338-346. Accessed April 20, 2020.
Kochenderfer, Rebecca. “Expressive Writing: A Tool for Transformation, with Dr. James Pennebaker, Ph.D.” Journaling.com, August 12, 2019. Accessed April 20, 2020.
Neff, Kristin. Self-Compassion.
Philip M. Ullrich, M.A., Susan K. Lutgendorf, Ph.D., Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Volume 24, Issue 3, August 2002, Pages 244–250.
Purcell, Maud. “The Health Benefits of Journaling.” PsychCentral, Oct 8, 2018. Accessed April 20, 2020.
Smith, Michael. “To reduce your stress and anxiety, write your happy thoughts down.” The Conversation, July 12, 2018. Accessed April 20, 2020.
Wong, J and Brown, J. “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain.” Greater Good Science Centre UC Berkeley, June 6, 2017. Accessed April 20, 2020.