Keeping a journal can help you manage your mental health and enhance your emotional well-being. Writing can be particularly helpful for addressing anxiety, depression, and stress. Gratitude journals can help you focus on what is going right in your life.
Note: Know that licensed mental health professionals are available to offer you compassionate support and effective treatment options. If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health concern or disorder, please seek help. Helpful information about counseling is available; visit MyTherapist.
Self-help tools—including journaling—can boost your well-being.
Benefits of Journaling
- Identify thinking patterns and track when you feel good and when you experience challenges or negative feelings.
- Recognize stressors or anxiety triggers.
- Brainstorm and track management and treatment steps that work for you.
- Help you understand your fears and thoughts.
- Give you the opportunity to reflect on alternatives to negative feelings and worries. Try noting what is going right in addition to (or in place of) what is going wrong.
- Gain a sense of order when things seem chaotic by organizing your thoughts in writing.
- Express gratitude for what is going right.
General Tips for Journaling
There is no right or wrong way to journal. It is a unique, personal activity.
Suggestions for journaling for mental wellness include:
- Thinking of journaling as a relaxing activity instead of an obligation.
- Writing daily (or at least regularly and often), even if you write for a short time.
- Writing (or even drawing) what feels right to you.
- Using either a paper journal or a digital journal—whichever you prefer. Neither needs to be formal. The act of noting and reflecting on your thoughts and feelings is what is powerful.
- Setting a timer and writing as much as you can until it goes off.
- Not worrying about spelling, grammar, or handwriting.
- Making your journal a judgment-free zone. Try not to worry about feeling embarrassed or negative about what you write.
Journaling to Boost Awareness of What Helps You Feel Better
Journaling can help you understand the circumstances surrounding your thoughts and feelings. It can help you identify the ins and outs of when you feel better and when you feel less so. This information can be a powerful tool for increasing your feel-good circumstances and addressing more negative circumstances.
Steps to take to boost your awareness include:
- Writing about your negative and positive thoughts and feelings.
- Reflecting on circumstances surrounding the positive or negative feelings.
For example, try asking yourself questions like:
- Do I feel better when I’ve gotten enough sleep?
- Do I feel anxious when I have an important task to do?
- Do I worry about certain things in particular?
- Do I feel better or worse after certain activities or interactions?
- What do I find is helpful?
- Identifying patterns. When do you feel better or worse?
- Using information you’ve given yourself to set gentle goals, such as specific things you can do to put yourself in circumstances that typically help you feel better.
Journaling to Challenge Negative Thoughts and Notice the Positives
Negative thoughts can fuel negative feelings. The good news is that there are researched-based practices that can help you reframe how you’re thinking. Journaling can help you identify negative thoughts and motivate you to consider more positive alternatives.
When you have negative thoughts or feelings, try writing them down and then journaling about alternatives to the negative. For example:
- Look for the gray areas instead of black and white. If something is bothering you, consider alternatives to its extremes. Is it completely awful? Try listing reasons why it might not be as bad as you think.
- Challenge overgeneralization. If something goes wrong, it does not usually mean that everything does or will. Try identifying ways you might be overgeneralizing.
- Use your mental filter wisely. Instead of taking one piece of negative information, applying it widely, and ignoring the positive, try listing the positives. Counteract the negative by making notes about what is going right.
- Avoid catastrophizing and focus on realistic thinking. If you find yourself worrying about “what-ifs” or worst-case scenarios, try listing more positive, realistic outcomes.
- Note your strengths. If you tend to have negative feelings about yourself, considering and writing about your strengths can help you view yourself in a more positive light.
Research shows that gratitude is linked to greater happiness. Gratitude can help increase positive emotions, enhance relationships, strengthen coping skills in the face of challenges, and benefit physical health.
Suggestions for writing in a gratitude journal include:
- Writing regularly. It does not have to be every day, but weekly can be beneficial.
- Being specific. For example, instead of writing that you’re thankful for a person in your life, write about a specific trait or action that makes you feel grateful for them.
- Going into detail. Writing details about what you’re thankful for can help you recognize the depth and importance of the positive.
- Don’t forget the small things. The positive small things in life can be positively powerful.
Journaling can offer you a release for your thoughts and feelings. It can also help you be aware of cause and effects and give you insight into the way you feel and think. Expressing yourself in writing can be a big mood booster.