Journaling Techniques

Journaling About Feelings: How to Explore and Express Emotions

Journaling about feelings can help you stay balanced, no matter what life brings. Humans aren’t born able to manage and express emotions, and not everyone is taught those skills in childhood. Even if your role models taught you how to express yourself, the many challenges of adulthood can test your skills.

People keep journals for many different reasons, including managing emotions. Documenting your experiences and the emotions that arise because of them can help you understand yourself and others better. By writing down your thoughts and emotions, you can gain clarity and insight into your own patterns of thinking and behavior. You may also be able to identify triggers for negative emotions and develop strategies to manage them. Journaling can also provide a sense of release and relief, as you express difficult emotions in a safe and private space.

In this post, we’ll explore why it’s important to journal about feelings and how to get started.

Why is it Important to Journal About Feelings?

If you’re like many people, you probably were taught not to cry or express anger. We’re often encouraged to be happy and avoid emotions that might be unpleasant. While adopting a positive “can do” attitude has benefits, ignoring painful things isn’t good for mental health.

Denying or dwelling on uncomfortable feelings is considered a “maladaptive” coping skill. Both habits can lead to isolation, self-harm, and substance or alcohol use. Negative coping skills harm your mental and physical wellness. 

In addition, when you get into the habit of numbing or denying painful emotions, it can make it more challenging to feel the joyful ones.

People develop maladaptive coping strategies for many reasons, including:

  • Overwhelming stress
  • Childhood abuse or neglect
  • Invalidation of their feelings
  • Maladaptive modeling from parents and other care providers
  • Personal beliefs or attitudes

While many people learn negative coping skills during childhood, even adults with a supportive family foundation can develop them later in life. Experiencing overwhelming trauma or stress can cause anyone to shut down emotionally. 

Journaling about feelings provides a safe, private space for people to share their emotions. Instead of denying, escaping, or ruminating, journaling is an opportunity to express feelings constructively.

a scene of journaling about feelings with an open notebook, tablet, and a cup of tea.

Try This Simple Reflective Method to Journal About Feelings

Self-expression is important and healthy, but expression alone is not the only reason to journal your feelings. Emotional journaling can be deep and meaningful emotional work if you take the right approach. Reflective journaling is a technique that can help you understand your emotions better.

Follow these steps to practice reflective journaling.

Step 1: Identify Your Feelings

Write what you’re feeling without judging or censoring. You may want to think of yourself as a reporter or someone without any personal attachment to the situation. You don’t need to justify your feelings during this step, either. If you’re angry, write about how it feels to be angry. No explanations are necessary.

Need help naming your feelings? Check out this helpful feelings list that includes body sensations.

Step 2: Think and Write about the Triggers

After you’ve expressed yourself, see if you can identify the event, person, or situation that triggered your feelings. Did you skip breakfast that day, or was it raining? Does a particular coworker always rub you the wrong way, or did you get angry because you were embarrassed about something? 

Try to be honest about your triggers. They don’t have to make sense. The point of Step 2 is simply to recognize them.

Step 3: Explore Your Emotions

Now it’s time to try to learn about your emotions, how frequently you respond in this way, and what other options were available in the given situation.

During this step, ask yourself a series of questions, such as:

  • Was this a positive or negative experience?
  • Have I felt this feeling before, and when?
  • What could I have done differently during this experience?
  • Why did I react that way?

Report about the experience without judging yourself (or others) and without justifying your emotional responses.

Step 4: Reflect and Learn

Now is the time to look deeper. What can you learn from reflecting on steps one, two, and three? Does your journaling reveal something about how you handle stress or what you would like to do differently? You may need to take some time before returning to reflect on a situation. 

Journaling your feelings can be emotional. Writing about emotions may bring up more and different emotions. Be gentle with yourself throughout the process. Remember, any exercise of journaling to heal is for self-growth, not a work or school project you must complete on someone else’s timeline.

The Benefits of Journaling About Feelings

Journaling benefits are actually backed by science. Many studies confirm that journaling helps improve or maintain good mental health. Therapists often recommend the practice to their patients as a tool to complement other therapeutic techniques.

Some of the most powerful journaling benefits include:

  • Reduces stress
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increases overall well-being
  • Helps you to be more objective
  • Provides an opportunity to process emotions
  • Improves your ability to regulate emotions
  • Helps with goal setting
  • Creates greater self-awareness
  • Builds better problem-solving skills

Self-discovery and self-growth are two of the most important benefits of journaling. 

10 Reasons to Journal About Feelings

Journaling your feelings has specific benefits. Writing can help you discover your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to practicing positive coping skills.

1. Recognize Patterns

To identify the triggers that bring up strong emotions, you have to be able to see patterns in your behavior. Journaling helps you recognize patterns by providing a written record to which you can refer. You may learn your emotions are more difficult to manage when you forget to take good care of yourself or that certain situations make you feel uncomfortable regardless of the specifics.

Once you recognize emotional patterns, you can avoid or prepare for triggers before they happen.

2. Process Emotions

Talking to a good friend, loved one, or mental health professional are great ways to process emotions, but sharing your feelings with someone else isn’t always possible or preferable. Journaling about feelings via a mood journal is a constructive way to work through challenging emotions on your own. You may also want to dive deeper into journaling grief as a way to explore your current thoughts and feelings about a recent loss or change.

3. Discover Yourself

No matter what you’re journaling about, whether it’s a memory, current event, or about the actions of another person, what you’re really writing about is you. Recording your reactions and feelings provides the insights you need to learn more about your own behavior. Practicing reflecting techniques helps you dig deeper into habits you may not have closely examined before.

4. Grow Problem-Solving Skills

Most people can easily name all the things they’re doing wrong. Whether it’s nature or nurture, humans seem geared to recognize their deficits more than their assets. 

Journaling shines a light on what you’re doing right. Once you realize a problem-solving technique has been successful for one experience, you’ll gain confidence in your ability to repeat the success in other ways.  

5. Decrease Stress and Anxiety

Being anxious about something can be like steam building up in a teapot. If that steam doesn’t have a safe outlet to escape, it will spew boiling water in every direction. The simple act of writing about a problem is like a safety valve for your anxiety steam. A journal is a safe place to vent difficult feelings without worrying that they will spill over and harm you or someone else.

6. Increase Clarity and Reflection

Journaling is like other skills. The more you do it, the better you become at it. The more you write, the better you’ll be at seeing patterns. Recording your thoughts helps you to see them more clearly and understand yourself better.

7. Boost Your Mood

Stress is sneaky. Without consciously realizing what’s happening, stress can cause you to feel irritated, physically ill, and fatigued. You may feel influenced to behave rudely or lose control of your emotions. Journaling signals your brain to release endorphins, which help fight stress and maintain a balanced mood.

8. Improve Self-Confidence

If you want to see how far you’ve come, start journaling. Journaling provides a tangible record of your challenges and how you’ve overcome them. It also boosts self-confidence by improving your writing and communication skills.

9. Develop Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Journaling about feelings is a healthy way to cope with emotions, and regularly writing can lead to other healthy skills. Through reflection, you may realize your own maladaptive habits and be inspired to change them. 

Journaling can also help you keep track of goals. Each small step toward emotional wellness adds up to huge changes in your overall quality of life.

10. Enhance Relationships

You may not think journaling is a relationship tool, but it can be. Journaling about feelings allows you to examine and reflect on your emotions before sharing them with someone else. For example, are you angry with your parents because of something they said, or are your feelings hurt because it feels like your parents don’t support your goals?

Understanding what’s going on with your emotions can prevent misunderstandings that strain a relationship. You can also go even deeper with a dedicated session to journaling about relationships.

How to Get Started with Journaling About Feelings

Journaling is a simple process. There are many different journaling styles and advice on how to do it well. Ultimately, whatever approach works for you is right. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your journaling techniques. You’re not writing an academic paper or professional report. Your journal is for your eyes only, and rules don’t apply.

The following tips will help you with how to start journaling:

Find the Right Journal

Do you love the feeling of a fresh blank page and a good pen in your hand, or do you prefer to click away at a keyboard? Whichever method appeals to you is the right one. 

If you’re new to journaling and don’t know what feels right, try the free Day One journal app. The app can help you build a journaling habit by sending writing reminders. It’s also always with you, making it a convenient option for journaling.

Be Intentional

Journaling about feelings takes courage and honesty. When you write, take a moment to gather your thoughts. It might help to set an intention or a goal, such as “Today, I’m going to write about my anger” or “Today, I want to learn more about my coping skills.” 

If your entry goes in a different direction, that’s all right, too, but starting with intention will help calm your mind and make your journaling time more meaningful.

Use Journal Prompts

Prompts are one of the most important features of the Day One journaling app. Journal prompts are questions or suggestions that provide a starting-off point for your journal entry. You can use a new prompt daily or save them for those days when you’re unsure what to write about.

To get the most from journal prompts, let them take you wherever you need to go. A seemingly innocent prompt, such as “Write about your first pet,” could take you on a deep emotional dive about commitment, unconditional love, or death. Remember, prompts are suggestions, not rules.

Write Regularly

Most experts suggest writing in your journal every day for 15 to 20 minutes. Journaling is a mindfulness practice similar to meditation. You get the most benefits when you do it every day, so developing a regular journaling habit can yield many benefits.

Many long-time journalers prefer writing first thing in the morning before the day’s stress interferes with their innermost thoughts. If your mornings are already hectic, choose the best time for your schedule. Writing once a day is important, but you don’t have to limit yourself to only one entry per day. If you want to write more, do it.

20 Journaling Prompts to Help Explore and Express Your Feelings

Digging into the truth of your feelings can be difficult, especially if you learned how to suppress emotions. Journal prompts can help you get past your own walls and start connecting with your emotions more easily.

Try the following prompts for expressive writing:

  1. What emotions did I experience today?
  2. How intense were the emotions I experienced today?
  3. What caused the emotions I experienced?
  4. What emotions do I feel most often?
  5. What emotions do I tend to avoid?
  6. What am I grateful for today?
  7. What is making me feel joyful?
  8. When was the last time I felt overwhelmed?
  9. What do I wish I could change about my life?
  10. What boundaries do I need to set to feel safe in a relationship?
  11. One positive coping skill I learned in childhood was …
  12. One maladaptive coping skill I learned in childhood was …
  13. How can I be kinder to myself today?
  14. What’s one thing that triggers a difficult emotion?
  15. What are my biggest fears?
  16. One personal quality I’m especially proud of is …
  17. In a romantic relationship, I need …
  18. What did I learn from a past relationship that ended?
  19. One thing I’d like to say to my 6-year-old self is …
  20. Describe what it feels like to be happy, sad, angry, anxious, or other feelings I frequently experience.

When using journaling prompts, consider applying reflective journaling techniques. Answer the question or write about the suggestion as if you are an unattached reporter, then reflect on your answer to better understand your emotions and how you have learned to cope with them.

Want to explore more prompts? Here are journaling prompts for mental health and journaling prompts for self-discovery.

4 More Tips for Journaling About Feelings

Journaling can be one of the most enriching self-care habits you will ever develop. Writing about your emotions helps you understand yourself and others better. Keeping a journal can accelerate your self-growth and keep you on track for meeting important goals. 

As valuable as journaling can be, you won’t write if it’s not fun or doesn’t seem like a good use of your time. Who could blame you? The following tips will help keep journaling enjoyable and productive.

1. Create a Safe Space to Express Yourself

Creating a safe space refers to your physical and emotional space. There’s no need to lock yourself in an empty room, but you may want to avoid public places where people could read over your shoulder or where there are a lot of distractions. Worrying about others glimpsing your journal will likely inhibit you from writing freely. 

Also, consider that journaling about feelings can sometimes be an emotional experience. Give yourself the protection of privacy if you need to process strong emotions.

2. Be Completely Honest and Open

No one is going to read your journal unless you give them permission. If you truly want to learn about yourself and reap the benefits of journaling, you need to be honest and open with your words. 

Honesty is easier if you write quickly without stopping to reread or correct yourself. If you are struggling to be honest, try the stream of consciousness writing technique.

For stream-of-consciousness writing, you write continuously for an allotted time without stopping. If you can’t think of anything to write, jot down nonsense words or phrases like, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking,” until a new insight comes your way.

3. Let Yourself Feel

Journaling about feelings wastes time if you don’t allow yourself to actually feel things. If you are struggling with deep pain, depression, or trauma, journaling alone may not be the answer. Contact a mental health professional to help you work through these emotions.

4. Don’t Overthink What You Write

Thinking is the enemy of feeling. Don’t overwhelm yourself with journaling rules, limits, or must-haves. Start writing and let the words come without worrying about whether you’re doing it “right.” If you’re writing, it’s right.

Wrapping Up: Journaling About Feelings

Journaling about your feelings can help you gain clarity and process emotions. If you’re looking for a simple and effective way to manage your emotions and improve your overall well-being, why not give journaling a try? All you need is a pen and paper, or even just a computer or phone to type out your thoughts. Set aside some time each day or week to reflect on your experiences and emotions, and jot down whatever comes to mind. With practice, you may find that journaling becomes a valuable habit that supports your emotional health and personal growth.

About the Author

Hannah Van Horn, MCMHC, LPC-C, is a mental health professional who specializes in helping trauma survivors navigate their healing journey. She is an advocate for making mental health accessible for all through written and digital content as well as face-to-face counseling services.

A photo of author Hannah Van Horn, MCMHC, LPC-C

This content is not professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You understand and agree that the services, products, and any other information you learn from Day One are not intended, designed, or implied to diagnose, prevent, or treat any condition or to be a substitute for professional medical care. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have an emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. If you’re are having suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area at any time (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). If you are located outside the United States, call your local emergency line immediately.

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