When it comes to mental health, journaling benefits are endless.
Do you ever notice how just writing something down gives it power? That goals are easier to achieve if you write them down often?
Well, if so, you are not alone. Millions of people everyday utilize journaling as a tool to improve their mental health. They’re writing down their thoughts, and goals, and dreams, and unburdening their mind of things that are troubling them.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” ― Ernest Hemingway
Angelou and Hemingway dealt with their fair share of pain, so they know what they’re talking about.
I haven’t always been the best at journaling, I’ll admit. In fact, I’ve recently taken it up again after years of not making it a priority.
It’s become a relaxing evening ritual of mine. That’s what inspired me to share this post, so that you can learn about all the benefits and try it for yourself.
If you’ve never tried writing in a journal, don’t worry. This post is going to break down the process for you, and make it feel super easy. I’m going to discuss why journaling is important, what supplies you need, and share some free journaling templates and prompts to get you started.
Keep reading to find out how you can make journaling your most helpful ally.
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Also, I am not a doctor or mental health professional. Just someone who has lived with anxiety for many years who is passionate about sharing her experiences and tips for success. If you are in crisis call your doctor, then click here for some good mental health resources.
Why journaling for mental health is so important.
Apart from sometimes being fun, journaling actually has a lot of really amazing benefits! According to Psych Central, it has the following health benefits:
Clarifies your thoughts and feelings.
Writing your thoughts down can help you make sense of them. Free association journaling has really powerful effects. You might not even realize how you’re feeling until you begin to write. Your emotional state unfolds before your very eyes and you can sit back and start to make sense of it.
To try free association journaling, all you need to do is write! Set a timer for 5 minutes, then start with the first thought in your head, and don’t stop. It might not be a cohesive narrative, but it doesn’t need to be. The point is just to get it all out on paper.
Helps you know yourself better.
Journaling regularly helps you track your thoughts and emotions. A natural consequence of that is that you begin to understand your mindset a little better. You develop a better sense of self awareness, which not only benefits you, but your relationships with those around you.
You can’t heal from whatever’s bothering you if you aren’t aware of what kind of shape you’re in emotionally. Journaling is a (nearly) free way to get things figured out.
The clearer your mind can be, the less stress you feel. A lot of times, stress builds up when we’re overwhelmed and drowning in troubling thoughts, without a way to express them. Thus, journaling is a perfect form of stress relief!
Stress has a lot of really negative side effects, according to HelpGuide. They cite 10 as being the most common:
- Depression and anxiety
- Pain of any kind
- Sleep problems
- Autoimmune diseases
- Digestive problems
- Skin conditions, such as eczema
- Heart disease
- Weight problems
- Reproductive issues
- Thinking and memory problems
Helps you solve problems more effectively.
As you begin to clear your mind, it might help you find solutions to your problems that you never knew were possible. It is often a lot easier to come up with step by step action plans when you write things out, and can see them in front of you in black and white.
Teaches you to resolve disagreements with others.
Since we already established that journaling improves self awareness and problem solving, you can probably guess that it can be used to benefit interpersonal relationships. It can help you come up with ways to get along better when you’re in heated situations.
If you struggle with face to face communication, you can even email these action steps to the person you’re having issues with. This can act as a way of showing them, “Hey, I’m working on it.” Make sure to include a genuine apology for any part you took in the disagreement, without saying, “I’m sorry you think/feel that I…” Take actual ownership.
What you need to get started
The good news is, you don’t need much to get started enjoying the 5 journaling benefits I listed above. Here is your go-to list for journaling supplies that will take about 15 minutes to fulfill:
A notebook of some kind.
It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can be a 30 cent spiral notebook from the office supply aisle. But I think our minds reflect our surroundings, and are easily influenced by what we see around us. If you pick a journal that has a soothing design on it, or is your favorite color, it might help restore some peace and calm.
If you are looking to start journaling, what are you waiting for? Try a guided journal!
A writing implement.
I use a pen because I hate how smudged pencil lead can get. But it’s really up to you. Again, writing in a color that speaks to you might help your mindset as you journal.
My favorite color is orange. What’s yours? If you’re out of pens, grab some here!
A clean, clutter-free space.
Since your mind is so malleable, you need to make sure you have a dedicated writing spot that’s not filled with clutter. That will help you think more clearly and make better use of your journaling time.
Get rid of any wrappers, overflowing garbages cans, and dirt laundry. Dust the hard surfaces, and vacuum/swiffer the floor.
Free journaling templates
Here are some free journaling templates to get you started, if you’d rather just print something each day than order a new notebook. There’s no wrong way to do it, and your options are pretty endless. Enjoy these freebies, and get started writing!
30 helpful journal prompts
If you aren’t sure what to write about, here are 30 helpful journaling prompts that will get you started in the right direction. Don’t worry about trying all of them right away. Just start with one and let your mind wander from there!
- Describe your perfect day. Who would be there? What would you do? How would you feel?
- Where would you travel if money was no object? Would you bring anyone with, or fly solo?
- What’s your favorite self care activity? Why do you love it, and how does it make you feel afterwards?
- If you could tell your 5 year old self anything, what would it be?
- If you could tell your 15 year old self anything, what would it be?
- What is something you would tell yourself if your emotional health was where you wish it could be?
- List 10 things you are genuinely grateful for.
- List 3 things you love about yourself, and 3 things you want to work on.
- Write yourself a love letter.
- Write a letter to someone you miss who has passed on.
- Make two columns. On one side, write past mistakes. On the other side, write something you learned from them. Then at the bottom, write: I forgive myself.
- What would you do if you won a million dollars?
- Write a story where you are the hero.
- What is your 5 year plan? (Think career, relationships, parenting, living arrangements, travel, and any other goals!)
- Write down some things you are worried about. Cross off the things you cannot control. For the rest, write down an action step you can take to fix the problem.
- Come up with 5 things you’ve accomplished that make you really proud of yourself.
- What is your favorite book and why? Who was your favorite character?
- What is your BHAG? (Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Make sure to make it a SMART goal!)
- What are you most looking forward to in the next 6 months?
- Write about your 3 biggest pet peeves and why they bother you so much.
- Name 10 things that make you smile.
- Talk about your favorite motivational quotes.
- What is something you couldn’t live without and why? (Not air, food, or water!)
- What are 7 things you want to learn in the next year?
- What do you regret the most? Talk about it, and try to forgive yourself and put it in the past.
- Who are your 5 favorite people?
- What are your top 3 biggest fears, and why?
- What have you been putting off? Get started planning it today!
- If you knew you wouldn’t fail or go broke, what dream would you chase right now?
- What type of person would you like to become?
Download these handy PDFs here.
If you feel overwhelmed, just take a deep breath.
Take a deep breath. I know that this might seem overwhelming, but it really doesn’t have to be. Here are 5 tips to leave you with for getting the most out of journaling.
Set a reminder on your phone
If you are worried you will forget to journal, do what I do! Set a daily alarm to go off on your phone. Set it for a time before bed when you will for sure be awake. Dedicate at least 5 uninterrupted minutes to writing each day.
Keep the journal in a place you will see it when before you go to bed
If you’re like me, things like journals get easily misplaced. I made it a habit to always keep it on my bedside table, and never bring it anywhere else to write. If your depression makes you absent-minded, that is a recipe for disaster. Keep it in the same place consistently, and write there each day.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your anxiety or depression won’t be cured that way either. Take it one day at a time. If you can only manage writing for 2-3 minutes instead of 5+, don’t beat yourself up. Start with where you are and work your way up from there.
Truth bomb: Journaling isn’t going to work if you do it once and never pick it up again. It’s best used as a daily self care ritual, not a one time quick fix. Even if you cannot do it every single day, aim to do it at least 3-4 days a week.
Adjust your expectations
Like I said, you will only see results under certain conditions, and it is not immediate. You have to be a dedicated journaler and open your mind to see any of the benefits at the beginning of this post. So be patient with yourself, and hang in there.
Give it a try. You owe it to yourself.
At the end of the day, journaling doesn’t have to be any one thing. It can be whatever you want it to be, as long as you are consistent and keep going even when it’s hard.
The point is that you try. As you read above, it has a lot of benefits, and it’s a very affordable mental health tool. Way cheaper than therapy, and you can do it right from the comfort of your own home.