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Journaling for Mental Health (And 30 Powerful Prompts)

From reducing stress to managing depression, journaling has some incredible benefits for mental health. 

It’s a research-proven way to release your negative thoughts onto the page and process your emotions.

And if you haven’t journaled in awhile – you’re missing out.

But sometimes it’s not always easy to get writing.

Sometimes you’re too depressed to journal for depression. And too stressed out to make time to journal for anxiety.

It’s ironic but it’s true. 

I’ve been journaling for decades and this is my ultimate guide to journaling for mental health, anxiety, depression and more.

This guide includes all my best tips to reap the full benefits of journaling – and to let it bring you stability when life gets hard.

Journaling benefits

A woman journals against a backdrop of a dark wooden shelf.

The benefits of journaling for mental health will surprise you. From reducing overwhelm at work to helping you sleep better at night, journaling is a powerful tool that psychologists have prescribed for decades.

Journaling helps you to:

  • manage anxiety
  • cope with depression
  • reduce stress
  • conquer fears and worries
  • identify negative thoughts and triggers
  • improve self-confidence
  • learn from experiences
  • sleep better
  • improve your mood
  • solve problems
  • process trauma

How to start a journal

A notebook lays open on a white table with an image of a bird and handwriting inside.

So how do you actually start journaling – and keep the habit going?

I’ve been journaling for years. And sometimes it feels ridiculous to keep writing when it feels like I have nothing special to say.

But whenever I skip journaling for a week or two – I really see a difference. Journaling has a huge impact on my stress levels and mental clarity.

But keeping the habit going isn’t always easy.

How to journal for mental health

  • Start small and keep your expectations realistic. If you feel overwhelmed, start with one-line-a-day journaling. When that becomes a solid part of your routine, work up to longer writing sessions.
  • Schedule your journaling into your day. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike – and don’t wait until you’re in the mood. Make writing part of your day like drinking your morning coffee.
  • Experiment with different journaling techniques. If writing steam of consciousness feels awkward, then try an art journal. Or keep a gratitude journal and write down 3 small things you’re grateful for each day.

Journaling prompts

A woman journals in a blank notebook against a backdrop of a dark wooden floor.

Prompts help you journal when you’re not in the mood to write – or don’t really know what to write about.

30 best journaling prompts for mental health:

1. How was your day? What were the highlights – and what didn’t go well?

2. What are you grateful for today? List 3 things that bring you happiness and describe them in detail – no matter how big or small.

3. What is your biggest goal for today? Does it feel achievable or impossible?

4. Write in detail about the happiest moments in your life. Describe them with all your senses.

5. Write about your biggest tasks, challenges and worries for tomorrow.

6. Write about the worst case scenario for something you’re worried about. Journaling about the worst case scenario will help you realize that many of your anxieties are exaggerated and irrational.

7. Write a to-do list for 5 minutes before bed. Writing down a list of specific loose ends has been proven to help you sleep better.

8. Take 15 minutes to write a list of everything you like about yourself.

9. Take 15 minutes to write a list of everything you enjoy about your job – no matter how small.

10. Jot down a list of pros and cons for a dilemma or difficult decision that you’re facing.

11. Get you stress out. Take a few minutes when you’re angry to write about what’s bothering you. Use your journal to let it all out.

12. Write a list of positive, daily affirmations.

13. Write a compassionate letter to yourself. Fill it with reassuring words that you’d say to a best friend who needs encouragement.

14. Take 15 minutes to write about the things you’re looking forward to – whether that’s a Netflix binge tonight or a weekend getaway.

Prompts for depression:

A dark green notebook lays on a table filled with other notebooks and paper clips.

15. Take 15 minutes to write about your regrets. What would you do differently today?

16. Write about a few people you admire. What can you learn from them, and how did they get to where they’re at?

17. Make a bucket list of everything you’d like to do in your lifetime.

18. Write out an imagined dialogue for a conversation that you’re too nervous to have. Write out a dialogue about a topic you’re afraid to bring up.

19. Write a letter to a person that you’d like to forgive.

20. Take 15 minutes to write about the things you appreciate in a family member or partner.

21. Make a list of the favorite compliments you’ve received in your life.

22. Make a list of any distractions that are keeping you from achieving your goals.

23. Make a list of moments when you feel your happiest and most authentic self.

24. Describe what you’re feeling, and what’s causing your current emotions.

25. Make a list of simple things you can do to make yourself feel better. Reach for this list whenever you’re feeling anxious or depressed.

26. Write about how you’ve changed in the past year.

27. Write a letter to your teenage self. Include any advice you’d give.

28. Write about the last time you couldn’t sleep. What thoughts and worries kept you up?

29. Write about the last time you had a great conversation with your partner.

30. Describe how you procrastinate. How do you distract yourself, and what feelings are you trying to avoid?

Journaling tips for mental health

A woman journals in a notebook filled with handwriting and small doodles in ink of different tropical fish.

  • Don’t worry about how eloquent you sound. Journaling is all about releasing your worries and emotions – it’s not about perfection.
  • Carry your journal with you everywhere. Train yourself to reach for your journal when you’re bored – instead of reaching for your phone.
  • If your writing feels silly or forced, then remind yourself about the benefits of journaling. It will inspire you to keep going.

Journaling techniques for mental health

A notebook lays on a wooden table next to a dark cup of coffee. A bright streak of sunshine comes in through the window.

You don’t have to write a traditional diary.

We’re all different. And there’s a myriad of different journaling techniques to fit your lifestyle and personality.

Journaling techniques for mental health:

  1. A gratitude journal reminds you to stop always striving for more and just appreciate the present. It’s one of the most powerful journaling techniques proven to make you happier and more productive.
  2. An unsent letter is written for catharsis and never meant to be mailed. It’s an incredible journaling technique to help you get closure or foster forgiveness and peace of mind.
  3. Art journal: If your thoughts flow easier in a visual format, then why not try an art journal for sketches, collages, doodles, inspirations and experiments?

Journaling tips for beginners

A woman's hand holding a pen and writing in a journal with a cup of coffee in the background.

Read 17 Powerful Journaling Tips For Beginners (And How To Start) for my ultimate guide to start a daily writing habit – and keep your journaling streak going!

The guide includes everything from hacks to make time for journaling, to prompts and journaling techniques.

Journaling ideas

A woman with red nail polish and silver rings opens a journal that holds a small photo of a blue sky and grassy field.

Read 100+ Incredible Journaling Ideas (For Anxiety, Clarity And More) for my ultimate list of journaling prompts for every occasion.

More resources:

13 Powerful Journaling Techniques (And How To Start)

18 Incredible Journaling Benefits (And How To Start)

51 Inspiring Quotes About Journaling (To Get You Writing!)

Nature Journaling: An Essential Guide (+8 Tips To Start)

47 Life-Changing Journaling Techniques (And How To Start)