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Journaling is a highly recommended tool for stress management. It can help to reduce feelings of distress, decrease anxiety¹ and increase your overall well-being. Writing for mental health is a simple and enjoyable technique that can be done anywhere, anytime.
Journaling is an effective way to examine and shift your mindset and thoughts from being ruminative and anxious to action-oriented and empowered.
Journaling helps improve your mood and control your symptoms of anxiety² by:
Helping you to prioritize your fears, problems, and concerns.
Tracking your day-to-day symptoms so that you are better able to recognize and control triggers.
Enabling you to identify negative behaviors and thoughts and replace them with positive self-talk.
When you're feeling stressed and have a problem you want to solve, keeping a journal can help you to figure out what's causing your anxiety and stress. The more you get to know yourself and your stressors, the more you can begin working on a plan to reduce your stress and resolve the issues.
Journaling is an ideal way to focus on your thoughts and feelings to create a healthy mindset. It can help you recognize your patterns and habits,³ solve any problems you are facing, and set and achieve goals.
The benefits of journaling for anxiety are that it encourages you to:
1. Recognize your patterns and habits
Putting pen to paper can bring awareness to what you're feeling and why you're feeling that way. If you're continually feeling stressed at a certain time, journaling can potentially help you internally address the issue and work through it. By recognizing your patterns and actions, you can work on changing them in a positive way.
2. Set and achieve goals
Journaling can help you navigate the ups and downs in life and achieve your goals. Writing down your goals keeps you accountable and helps you to measure your progress over time, such as:
Finding a new job
Starting a healthy exercise routine
Managing any health conditions you may have
Learning a new language or starting new hobbies
Joining a community group
Writing down your goals, no matter how big or small, and keeping track of them can help you to stay on the path to success, however, you want to define it.
3. Develop a deeper understanding of yourself
Expressive writing about your thoughts, feelings, and emotions can help you to better understand the way you view and react to the world around you – this is known as your schemas. As you explore your feelings, you will develop a deeper understanding of yourself and ways to describe and express how you are feeling.
With so many benefits to journaling, you may be wanting to start a journaling practice in your day-to-day life. You can journal every day, once a week, or as needed, whenever your stress levels become a little too intense.
If you’re wondering how to effectively journal for mental health, here are a few steps to get started:
1. Paper or digital?
Writing by hand is the more traditional way to journal and it can help you to better process your thoughts. But it's best to go with a format that's more convenient for you. If you like to write by hand, go with a paper journal, or if you prefer typing and having your journal easily accessible on your phone at all times, go digital. You could also use both!
2. Write down what you worry about
Begin by journaling for around 5 to 20 minutes at a time. Just write down whatever pops into your mind. You can write about your day, your feelings at that moment, or any other topic. Continue writing until nothing else comes to mind and you feel you've written down everything that needs to be said.
3. Reflect on what you've written
Once you’ve finished writing, take the time to read over and reflect on what you have written. Are you able to understand why you felt a certain way? Are there things you could do differently? Is there a way that you can change your thoughts or your circumstances right now? Challenge your thoughts in a supportive way, which will ease your anxiety and help you to feel empowered and in control.
4. Rewrite your concerns or fears
For each concern or fear you have, write at least one way in which you could approach it differently. Try assessing your reactions and experiences as if you were solving the problem in an objective way. By stepping outside of your emotions, you can create a new internal narrative for yourself.
5. Write daily
Write in your journal daily to experience the most benefit. By making journaling a habit, you will see the most positive growth in your mental health. Choose a convenient time where you can write each day and schedule this journaling time so you don’t miss it.
6. Use journal prompts
Using journal prompts can give you a solid place to start. You can write a prompt every time you journal, or only occasionally when you feel like it. You can use the same prompt over and over to see what interesting new insights you have, as your thinking process changes over time.
You can create your own list of prompts based on what you want to focus on or solve. If you are working with a therapist, they can also help you to come up with ideas.
Journaling can be an empowering tool to help you through stressful situations, reduce anxiety, and develop a deeper understanding of how you see and react to the world around you. As some problems you’re facing will require additional help, talk with your doctor or a therapist if you feel overwhelmed or negatively impacted by your anxiety.
Journaling for Mental Health | University of Rochester Medical Center
How to Start a Journal | Headspace