If you’re thinking of journaling for mental health, I can’t recommend it enough. Journaling is one of my top New Year’s resolutions for so many reasons. Journaling can do wonders for your health, providing you with a creative, cathartic release and allowing you to rid yourself of daily stresses. It also allows you to look back on your journey to reflect on personal patterns of behaviour, growth and how you’ve overcome challenges that once set you back.
If you don’t know how to journal, this post is going to walk you through the journaling process so you can use writing therapy to enhance your mental health. Here’s how to start a journal and keep at it.
How to Start a Journal
There are different types of journals you can create for yourself, depending on what your goals are for your getting into journaling. Journaling shouldn’t feel overwhelming. Start off small and if you’re wondering what to write, give yourself a simple task such as writing down 5 people you talked to that day. Getting into the habit of journaling is the first step. Here are some tips for starting your journaling journey.
- Time Yourself. A good way to start journaling is giving yourself a time limit of 5 or 10 minutes to get your thoughts down on paper. If you leave it open-ended it might start to seem daunting or you may start to get bored. When you have a set time, you’re more likely to make time for journaling in your day rather than thinking you need to sit down and devote hours on end to it.
- Use Paper Only. It is possible to journal on your laptop or phone, but it’s best to avoid screens and write in a notebook instead. Allow yourself to slow down and really immerse yourself in the creative process of journaling. Take your time to complete your thoughts and write them down on paper. It’s a nice break from our screen-driven world.
- Date Your Entries. Dating your entries allows you to look back and reflect what’s been happening in your life and how you’ve felt at different times in your life. This can be incredibly insightful. It also shows you gaps between your entries, which is helpful to reflect on and keep track of.
- Be Truthful. Your journal is yours and yours alone. Allow yourself to write down the truth about what’s going on in your life and how you’re feeling about it. Don’t talk yourself out of accepting what you’re really feeling. Take your time, go slow and let the truth flow out.
- Re-read Your Entries. There’s something important in every journal entry you write, even if you don’t see/know it when you’re writing it. Always keep your journal entries and re-read them. They’ll offer lots of insight at a time you need it most.
Why Keep a Journal
There are many reasons to start journaling for mental health. Writing helps your creativity flow. It helps you solve problems, track your personal patterns of behavior, and be honest with yourself about what you’re feeling in your everyday life. Keeping a journal allows you to write down honest thoughts and feelings you may not be able to share with others.
Journaling also helps you better understand what you’re feeling. By writing things down, you can take the edge off toxic emotions and gain clarity on future steps you need to take. You can also look back on your journal entries to see how far you’ve come, how your handled challenges, and what personal patterns became roadblocks in your personal and professional life.
Your journal is a place for your dreams and ideas, but it’s also a place to let out negative feelings and disappointments. All of these things are important to keep track of and reflect on.
What to Write in a Journal
Figuring out what to write in a journal is one of the toughest things about starting a journal in the first place. Don’t worry if it doesn’t go as smoothly as you want it to the first few times. Like anything else, journaling is something you need to get used to and comfortable with.
You can write about anything from events that have impacted you, your inner thoughts, creative ideas, a recap of your day, goals you want to achieve, your thoughts on a book, movie, or play, moments that bring you joy, moments that bring you pain and hurt, memorable places you’ve visited, mouth-watering meals you loved, your favourite hobbies, etc.
Our Favorite Guided Journals
If free writing isn’t your thing, or you’re looking for a way to use your writing towards achieving a certain goal (living a life with gratitude, being happier, being more productive, etc.), here are 7 guided journals you may consider.
The Five Minute Journal. If you’re just starting out with journaling and would rather have a guide than just jotting down all your thoughts on paper, the Five Minute Journal may be a great option for you. This journal helps you focus your attention on the good in your life, cultivating gratitude and improving your mental well-being. It provides you with a simple structure that only takes five minutes to fill out, combining the proven elements of positive psychology so you can reflect and evaluate as you start and end your day.
The Bullet Journal. If you have a thing for lists, you will LOVE The Bullet Journal. It’s a way to ‘track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future’, and it has really taken off in recent years. It allows you to record important tidbits of information throughout the day and keep track of important tasks and upcoming events, and through the use of different signifiers, you can create daily, weekly, and monthly logs to keep your life organized and in synch. It’s pretty impressive.
52 Lists for Happiness. Another favorite for list lovers, 52 Lists for Happiness contains (you guessed it!) 52 writing prompts that guide you through creating a weekly list of positivity, which you can add to daily. Perfect for those who are trying to practice mindfulness and gratitude, this guided journal is a fabulous self-discovery tool.
Q&A a Day: 5-Year Journal. If your main goal with journaling is simply to write, but you have trouble coming up with meaningful things to write about each day, the Q&A a Day: 5-Year Journal may be the thing for you. Each day comes with a new question – some serious, some silly – and at the end of the 5 years you can start again and see how your thoughts and feelings have changed over time.
How to Be Happy (Or at Least Less Sad). This isn’t a journal, per se, but I highly recommend it. It’s a self-help workbook of sorts, with mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy principals weaved throughout. The book will provide you with writing prompts that will help you see the positives and negatives in your life, and help put a different spin on the things that get you down. Find out more HERE.
The Happy Book. As this title suggests, this guided journal is all about happiness. The idea is to focus on the good things in your life, giving you something tangible to reflect on when you feel down and need a reminder of all the things that bring you joy.
Start Where You Are. This journal is all about self-reflection, and through different writing prompts, activities, and inspirational quotes, you will begin to see the good in yourself, making it the perfect guided journal for those struggling with self-confidence.
Therapy Journal Prompts
If you want even more ideas on what to write about in your journal, you can try these 15 therapy journal prompts to get you started.
- If you could achieve anything in your life, what would it be and why?
- What are three things that scare you most and why?
- What are three things you can do to enhance your mental well being?
- Write about a difficult time in your life and how you overcame it
- Write a letter to your biggest supporter (you don’t have to give it to them if you don’t want to)
- What are three things that made you happy today?
- If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
- Describe a time in your life when you failed. What did you learn from it?
- What are three of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from having (anxiety, depression, etc.)?
- If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be and why?
- What does your ideal life look like?
- Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, 20 years?
- How would you describe yourself to a stranger?
- What are your top 5 values in life?
- What is something nobody knows about you? Why have you kept it a secret?
Journaling can do great things for your mental health. Start off slow and take it step by step. It just may become your favourite pastime.