Journal writing has long been recognized as an effective way to reduce stress, help with depression and anxiety, focus your mind, and organise your life. One of the best parts of journaling is that it’s something you can do at home, when it’s convenient for you, without needing a lot of time, resources, or skill. There’s more to keeping a journal than just getting your thoughts down on paper.

Research shows that daily journaling can help improve your mental health and get your life back on track, whether you’re struggling with relationships, future goals, how to stay organized, or even in the ways you communicate with a partner, your children, your co-workers, your friends, your parents, or anyone in your life.

Expressing yourself creatively, like when you write in a journal, is great for relieving stress and focusing on the things in life that aren’t serving you. You can use a journal to develop or practice healthy habits, set and work toward goals, or manage your mental health and improve anxiety, stress, or depression. Even just a few minutes a day can make a world of difference to your mental wellbeing. 

There are many reasons why people commit to journaling. The process of writing is inherently therapeutic. It can help you organize your thoughts, express yourself, and process and deal with your emotions both good and bad in a positive, healthy way. Other benefits of journaling can include:

  • Reducing stress
  • Identifying and tracking goals
  • Achieving those goals
  • Tracking problems so you can recognize triggers
  • Finding inspiration
  • Improving self-confidence 
  • Overcoming fears
  • Identifying and addressing negative thoughts and behaviours
  • Starting a habit of using self-talk and creating mantras

How to Start a Mental Health Journal
People who start (and stick with) journaling often find the following strategies are helpful in the beginning. 

  • Commit to writing every day
  • Plan a time, and possibly a place, to journal
  • Set a time limit.  Maybe you can only commit to writing 5 or 10 minutes a day in the beginning. That’s fine.
  • Be open to journaling in whatever way makes sense that day. Journals can be artistic, full of words, random brainstorming, bullet-pointed lists, or a combination of all of these. There’s no one-size-fits-all way to journal.
  • Remember your journal can be private, or you can share it. You can use your journal in a multitude of ways. It can be a prompt you use with your therapist in weekly sessions, a way to guide you through difficult conversations and interactions, or it can be your own, private brain dump that nobody else will ever see.
  • Write openly. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation or spelling.

Journaling for Anxiety
You can journal for anxiety to:

  • Reduce anxious thoughts and feelings
  • Identify things that trigger your anxiety
  • Decrease feelings of distress
  • Challenge your unhealthy and negative thought patterns
  • Figure out resolutions to problems
  • Understand, prioritize, and face your fears
  • Improve your mood

Journaling for Depression
Keeping a gratitude journal can improve your outlook on and quality of life and decrease psychological stress. You can journal for depression to:

  • Become more aware of your symptoms
  • Identify patterns of thinking and behaviour that can lead to depression 
  • Take control of your emotions
  • Refocus your viewpoint

Journaling for Stress 
You can journal for stress to:

  • Remind yourself of what you can, and cannot, control
  • Prioritise your responsibilities so you can focus on the most important things first
  • Grow as a person
  • Process your emotions more effectively

18 Journal Prompts for Mental Health 
Prompts can give you direction and focus on your journal each day. You don’t necessarily need to use or follow a prompt every day, but if you’re ever having a hard time getting started, try one of the following to keep your momentum going. 

  1. List 3 things you’re grateful for
  2. Talk about the day you just had (evening journal)
  3. Talk about your goals for the day (morning journal)
  4. Identify a personal or professional goal, list 3 ways you’ll work towards achieving it
  5. List your coping mechanisms and discuss how well they’re working for you 
  6. Do a 5 and 5 entry: Where you were 5 years ago, where you want to be in 5 more years
  7. Write a letter to your 10/20/40-year old self
  8. Write a letter to your body; it can be an apology letter, a love letter, or a motivational letter
  9. Describe who you are to someone you don’t know
  10. Write down 3 emotions you regularly feel
  11. Write a REMINDER entry to read on a bad day
  12. Talk about the best goal you’ve ever reached
  13. If you could be granted 3 wishes…
  14. What’s your purpose in life?
  15. Revisit your first memory
  16. What is your biggest challenge in life right now?
  17. What do you want to improve on?
  18. What were the worst and best days of your life?

Whilst it might not solve everything you’re struggling with, journaling for mental health can be a wonderful tool that helps you focus, let go of trauma, manage your emotions and work towards the personal growth you’ve been seeking.