Journaling has been an important part of personal development and mental health care for centuries. In this blog post, we’ll be talking about the essence of journaling, its benefits for mental health, and some practical tips for getting started.

What is journaling?

At its core, journaling is the practice of regularly recording your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It’s a space for self-reflection, creativity, and expression, but without the pressure of an audience. Journals can take many forms, and aren’t even expressly limited to writing – your journaling style should be unique to you! All that matters is that you use it to express yourself and what you’re feeling, and that you do it regularly.

Why is journaling good for mental health?

Journaling is proven to improve mental health, and it does so in several ways. Firstly, it’s a great emotional outlet. It’ll give you a safe space to vent frustrations, celebrate joys, and navigate complex emotions. This alone can help with reducing stress and managing anxiety.

Secondly, journaling fosters self-awareness. By regularly documenting thoughts and feelings, you’ll gain insights into your behavioral patterns and emotional triggers, which is crucial for personal growth and mental well-being. This is especially true for written journaling. Many people aren’t good at describing their emotions, and often don’t even have the language to describe what they’re feeling. By writing about your feelings more consistently, you’ll gain the vocabulary to describe them, thus giving yourself more clarity when dealing with mental health challenges.

Finally, journaling gives you a written record of how you were feeling on any given day. This can be especially useful if you’re starting therapy or a new medication that can affect your mood. (And if your medication has side effects, it’ll tell you whether they’re worth it.) It can also help you notice patterns in your mental health, like if you tend to feel worse on certain days of the week, or if you feel better after doing certain activities. And finally, it’s a great way to track your progress over time, and to remember important events in your life months or even years later.

How to start journaling

Beginning a journaling practice can be as simple or elaborate as you choose. However, it’s important to remember: the most important thing is to start, and the second most important thing is to continue. Because of this, we recommend starting with an approach with some structure. Many people journal with prompts, and I also recommend journaling about what’s happening to you in the moment. You’re probably already accustomed to talking about your day, and this is just another way to do that.

Additionally, the medium also matters. Especially if you’re journaling about your day as it happens, you’ll want a journal that you can have with you all the time. For most people, the easiest way to do that is with a journaling app. Journaling apps can also help you stay consistent through notifications, which can help keep you on schedule. I personally use baseline, which I’d recommend for anyone looking to start journaling.

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baseline is a 100% free, non-profit operated, journaling and mood tracking service that's designed to help people better understand their mental health by building a journaling habit.

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What to write in a mental health journal

Mental health journaling often focuses on understanding and managing emotions, thoughts, and experiences. I typically try to answer these three questions every time I journal:

  1. What have I been doing today?
  2. How have I been feeling today?
  3. Why might I be feeling that way?

This set of prompts is meant to ease you into writing about your mental health. The first question is simple and straightforward – you’ve probably been talking about what you did on any given day for years. The second question asks you to reflect on how you’ve been feeling. And finally, the third question asks you to tie those two things together – did anything happen today that might be related to how you’re feeling? This is a great way to start understanding your emotions and how they relate to your experiences.

There are lots of other ways to journal as well. I sometimes do gratitude journaling, especially when I’m feeling more alone or hopeless, as a way to remember that good things are still out there. I also sometimes write reflections about what I did in the last week or month, in order to reflect on my overall productivity or stress. All of these are beneficial, and I mix in lots of different types of journaling – but most of the time, I start with those first three questions.

Types of journaling

We’ve mostly talked about written journaling here, but there are lots of other ways to journal. Some people prefer to journal with voice memos, or even video. Others prefer to draw or paint. All of these are valid forms of journaling, and you should choose the one that works best for you. However, I’d recommend starting with written journaling, as it’s the easiest to do consistently, and it gets you into the habit of really reflecting while journaling. Once you’ve built that habit, it’s great to branch out.

There are also lots of different prompts you can try in addition to the ones we’ve already shared! We’ve included a few below, for depression and anxiety specifically.

Journal prompts for depression

  • What is something that made me feel sad today?
  • What sorts of activities make me feel better?
  • What makes me feel worse?
  • How can I take better care of myself?
  • What people can I turn to for support?

Journal prompts for anxiety

  • What makes my anxiety worse?
  • What are some coping strategies that make me feel better?
  • How have I avoided anxiety attacks in the past?
  • When has my anxiety been wrong?
  • Who can I turn to when I’m feeling anxious?

I hope this article has given you some inspiration about how to journal for mental health. If you want to learn more about mental health, check out the rest of our blog!