“Journal writing, when it becomes a ritual for transformation, is not only life-changing but life-expanding.”Jen Williamson
Even many of us who don’t have an official diagnosis or mental illness still struggle with the symptoms of these issues, including persistent and overwhelming stress, self-doubt and low self-esteem, sleep troubles, and never feeling good enough.
While pharmaceutical treatments are available for these issues, research has repeatedly shown that the most effective treatment is not medication alone but a more holistic approach that includes self-help techniques and methods.
One of the most beneficial self-help techniques to combat mental health issues is journaling – writing and reflecting on gaining insight into one’s personal struggle.
This article will offer a range of journal prompts for mental health to help you get started with this evidence-based therapeutic self-help tool.
First, let’s take a look at journaling’s scientifically proven benefits.
How does journaling help?
Journaling offers a healthy approach to exploring, understanding, and releasing our innermost thoughts and feelings. Sometimes we don’t get in touch with our inner experiences and instead push them away or ignore them in favor of being ‘normal’ or not wanting to worry anyone.
The problem with this habit of pushing away is that our complex thoughts and feelings don’t disappear when we ignore them. They are there to be acknowledged, felt, moved through, and not away from; they tend to persist until they are dealt with.
Journaling can serve as a release valve for these thoughts and feelings. It may not be an immediate solution to a problem, but helping us acknowledge our worries and concerns in the first place creates breathing space, and that space is often all we need to take the first step toward positive change.
Further, writing about strong or overwhelming emotions reduces their intensity and impacts our stress levels and overall well-being.
Gratitude journaling and writing about positive experiences can also shift a negative mindset and help us think and feel more positive daily.
The proven benefits of journaling
It may be hard to believe that simply writing down your thoughts, feelings, and experiences can impact your mental well-being. Still, various studies have proven that journaling positively affects mental health.
According to several studies, journaling was positively associated with a reduction of perceived stress levels and reduced severity of depression and anxiety symptoms.
One study found that participants who had been diagnosed with PTSD experienced a decline in symptom severity following consistent journaling. Another study found that gratitude journaling – about big and small things for which we are grateful – reduces stress and increases self-reported emotional well-being.
Other proven benefits of mental health journaling include:
- Increased emotional resilience
- Increased self-awareness
- Improved mood and sense of well-being
- Improved sleep quality
“In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself. The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather — in many cases — offers an alternative to it.”Susan Sontag
Journaling takes thoughts and feelings out of your mind and puts them on paper. From there, you can see what you’ve been thinking and feeling more objectively, making it easier for you to find solutions.
Even when you don’t find a solution to a particular problem, getting what’s inside out on paper can be cathartic. It’s often only when you see our thoughts and feelings written down that you realize the significance of their content.
How to get started journaling
There are several ways to start journaling, so find what works best for you.
There’s no right or wrong way to journal, but sometimes it helps to try a technique or give prompts.
Some people enjoy freewriting about anything and everything that comes to mind, and this type of journaling can offer profound self-insight. Still, if you tend to ruminate and dwell on catastrophe, this journaling may not benefit your well-being.
Free writing offers deep insight into the type of thoughts and beliefs running around your mind, but prompts can guide you toward more specific outcomes.
For example, many people benefit from gratitude journaling – setting aside five, ten, or fifteen minutes daily or weekly to journal about things they are grateful for.
Another approach is self-esteem journaling, whereby you write down everything you’ve accomplished and take time to reflect on those accomplishments.
You may prefer to write a letter to your past self explaining how previous concerns seem insignificant now or a letter from your future self explaining the same. You may simply want to spend ten to fifteen minutes a day or a few times a week writing about things that have been going well.
These are simple techniques but have a profound effect on the mind. The latter method – ‘what’s going well?’ – simply shifts the mind from automatic negative thoughts to more positive ones.
With consistent practice, this shift from negative to positive becomes smoother, and you may find yourself making this shift throughout the day, even without the help of a journal.
Journal prompts for mental health
Daily journal prompts for mental health
What is your favorite personality trait that you possess?
Write for five minutes about this trait. How do you feel about it? How does it show up in your life? How does it influence your relationships with others?
What are your strengths? Skills, traits, or habits that you believe make you a good person?
In what ways can you benefit from setting a boundary in your life? How may you implement that boundary?
What are your core values? Choose three to five and elaborate.
What are three important lessons you’ve learned in life?
Who do you admire? It can be someone you know, a character, or a famous person. What do you admire about them? And how can you implement those qualities in your own life?
How do you unwind at the end of the day? If unsure, what can you start doing to help you relax?
In what ways do you usually cope with stress? Are these healthy or unhealthy coping mechanisms? If unhealthy, what healthy coping skills could replace them?
Gratitude journaling prompts
Cultivating and expressing gratitude is incredibly important for maintaining good mental health.
Research shows that gratitude reduces stress and anxiety, increasing happiness, positive self-esteem, and greater emotional resilience during stress.
One 2009 study found that gratitude increased participants’ life satisfaction, mood, and physical health!
Identify three things for which you’re grateful today.
What three things have you felt most grateful for this year?
Who or what in your life brings you joy? How may you show appreciation?
Therapeutic journal prompts for relationship insight
Our interpersonal relationships greatly influence our mental health and vice versa.
Understanding our thoughts, beliefs, and behavior patterns as they relate to our romantic, familial, and platonic relationships helps us gain insight into these highly influential parts of our lives and allows us to make positive changes where potentially unhealthy habits or belief systems have formed.
Below you will find five journaling prompts designed to bring your attention to your relationship patterns and beliefs.
Do you have expectations around your romantic partners? What are those expectations?
Could issues from past relationships be affecting your current relationship? What are these issues, and how will you go about resolving them?
What is your typical attachment style, and how do you think that affects your relationships?
What do you consider your top three needs in a relationship?
How do you typically communicate during times of conflict?
With whom do you have a healthy, trusting relationship? What does that relationship mean to you?
Journal writing tips
1. Get started
The hardest part of journaling is getting started.
Staring at a blank page can be daunting, especially if you have perfectionist tendencies.
Don’t worry about how it will sound – this journal is for you and you alone, so you don’t need to show it to anybody, and it doesn’t need to be ‘good.’
This is a safe space to express yourself, so forget about judgment and criticism. Once you get started, the process becomes a whole lot easier.
2. Time it
That daunting blank page is less daunting when you know how long you’ll sit in front of it. Begin with five to ten minutes of journaling per session.
Over time, feel free to sit and journal for longer. Once you get into the swing of journaling, five to ten minutes won’t feel like much time.
3. Be consistent
Practice consistency with your journaling – that means try to write your journal entry around the same time every day or the same day every week.
Forgive yourself for not being consistent, but aim for consistency anyway. Consistency helps you notice mood and thought patterns which can be used for even further self-insight.
The small habits we adopt on a day-to-day basis go a long way in improving our mental health.
Sometimes when mental health issues like stress and mental fatigue arise, we want to fix them overnight. We want a magic pill or some fix-all solution to help us escape the problem, but that’s how good mental health is achieved now.
Through the small acts, the daily healthy habits that are practiced consistently, we help ourselves achieve and maintain good mental health.
Journaling is just one of these habits, but other positive psychology tools include:
- Getting out in nature
- Spending quality time with friends
- Following a healthy, natural diet
Of course, sometimes we need more help, so it’s essential to know when to reach out for help. You don’t have to struggle alone, so if you’ve been feeling overwhelmed, confused, or down lately, then don’t hesitate to reach out for support, whether that’s a trusted friend or family member or a qualified mental health professional in therapy.
Journal to gain insight and become a more effective person in your daily life, but reach out and ask for help when needed. Doing so can be incredibly daunting but is key to keeping our mental health in check.