If you’re looking for a way to boost your mental health and well-being, journaling offers a host of benefits. By writing out your thoughts and feelings, you can gain clarity, process emotions, and develop a deeper understanding of yourself. But sometimes, the most difficult part of journaling is simply getting started. That’s where journaling prompts for mental health can come in handy. By using specific prompts, you can jump-start your writing process and explore new topics and ideas.
In this post, we’ve compiled a list of 21 journaling prompts specifically designed to support your mental health. Whether you’re new to journaling or a seasoned pro, we hope these prompts inspire you to deepen your writing practice and enhance your overall well-being.
What’s Unique about Mental Health Journaling?
Journaling for your mental health is when you purposefully write down your thoughts and feelings to help you make sense of them. This type of journaling often includes mental health journal prompts that follow a specific theme to help you work through an issue.
People who practice mental health journaling use their journals as a coping tool. When you feel overwhelmed or find yourself experiencing something that triggers you, journaling can be a healthy way to process your thoughts and feelings. Instead of turning to more unhelpful coping strategies, you can relieve stress by writing in your journal.
Looking back at previous journal exercises can also be beneficial for maintaining good mental health. When you use it purposefully, your journal becomes a record of your accomplishments. A therapy journal can show you how you’ve resolved difficult experiences in the past, track the building of your resilience, and help build your confidence for the future.
When you feel overwhelmed or find yourself experiencing something that triggers you, journaling can be a healthy way to process your thoughts and feelings. Instead of turning to more unhelpful coping strategies, you can relieve stress by writing in your journal.
Another purpose for mental health journaling is to document your mental health treatment. For example, you can use your journal to track your medications and their effects, write down techniques or notes from your therapy session, or even use it to do any homework your therapist has asked you to do between sessions. You can also document things you want to discuss with your therapist when you meet again.
You might also use your mental health journal to reflect on your most recent therapy session. In fact, writing about therapy can increase its positive effects and provide deeper insight into your challenges and strengths.
Mental Health Journaling: How It Helps
Research shows that writing about deeply personal issues promotes physical health, emotional well-being, and adaptive behaviors. Simply writing about these issues — getting them out — has healing properties.
Dr. James W. Pennebaker spent his professional academic career studying the therapeutic benefits of writing and is thought to be the first scholar in this area. Pennebaker’s theory was that “expressing our deeper thoughts and feelings can result in significant health benefits in the short- and long-term.”
Pennebaker’s research found links between journaling and decreased anxiety, lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, less muscle tension, decreased stress, a decline in trauma symptoms, and even enhanced immune function. Other scholars followed with similar results and expanded findings.
So, how does journaling help? Journaling can help people accept their emotions without judging them. They can document their thoughts and feelings and begin to understand them. This processing may result in a healthier response to stress.
Expressive Writing & Gratitude Journaling
Pennebaker also founded a method of journaling that he proved had a myriad of mental and physical health benefits — expressive writing.
Expressive writing is the practice of documenting your thoughts and feelings about a stressful life event, almost as if you are an uninvolved observer, recognizing and reporting on someone else’s emotions surrounding it. This type of writing helps a person recognize and begin to understand their feelings about an event.
Today, expressive writing is one of two forms of journaling that mental health professionals recommend. The other is keeping a gratitude journal.
Gratitude journaling is the practice of recording the good things that happen to you throughout the day. This type of journaling helps rewire your brain to focus on the positive things in your life and teaches you to temper your responses to negative things.
Researchers have found that journaling helps alleviate:
- Eating disorders
- Substance and alcohol use disorders
- Dealing with chronic illness
- Stress from life transitions
- Fears of the future
One reason mental health journaling can help with these challenges is that the act of journaling is a mindfulness exercise. Other mindfulness practices like yoga, meditation, journaling, and breathing exercises help you focus on the present and experience the happenings and your feelings in an observational way.
Incorporating mindfulness practices into your self-care routine can help reduce symptoms of depression and stress. But, if you have depression or other forms of mental illness, remember that journaling is a tool that may help you manage symptoms, but it isn’t a substitute for mental health care.
Benefits of Journaling for Your Mental Health
As you can see, the many benefits of journaling can help with various mental health concerns. Journaling provides a way to release anger, fear, or disappointment without harming yourself or anyone else. It can also provide an opportunity to reflect on your own behaviors and actions.
The benefits of journaling for mental health include:
- Helps you process feelings
- Improves self-awareness and reflection
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Manages anger and negative emotions
- Allows freedom of expression
- Keeps you accountable
- Tracks progress and personal growth
- Identifies triggers and patterns
- Enhances therapy work
- Helps with goal setting and achievement
Whether you’re using mental health journal prompts or doing some spontaneous writing, writing can release endorphins, those natural “feel good” brain chemicals that lift and stabilize your mood.
4 Tips for Starting a Mental Health Journal
Starting any new habit can seem daunting initially, but getting started with mental health journaling doesn’t have to be complicated. These tips will help you incorporate wellness journaling into your routine.
1. Download a Helpful Journal App
Journaling apps provide inspiration, notifications to remind you to write, and meaningful journaling prompts for mental health. A journaling app like Day One also allows you to enjoy journaling features like including photos and videos or dictating your entries with voice transcription.
2. Schedule Time for Consistent Journaling
When it comes to developing a new habit, consistency and patience are key. Building a new habit can take up to two months, so it’s important to establish a consistent time for journaling that you can stick to each day.
Once you incorporate journaling into your daily routine, you might not need a journaling schedule, but it helps to get started. Until then, most people prefer to journal in the morning, when they feel most energized, or when they have some quiet time to reflect in the evening. Research shows that journaling is beneficial each time you do it, so developing the habit is worthwhile.
3. Determine Your Goals
Your purpose for journaling may change over time, but having a goal will help to motivate you when you first begin. Is your goal for journaling to increase your gratitude, work on self-awareness, or keep a record of therapy exercises?
One of the great things about wellness journaling is that you don’t have to conform to what others are doing. Whatever your goals are, they are valid and worth working toward.
4. Give Yourself Grace While You Start
Remember it’s OK if you skip a day or two or can’t write more than a few sentences during some sessions. There is no wrong way to journal, and it’s not a competition. Any therapeutic writing you do is worthwhile.
Keeping a journal may feel awkward at first. You might feel like you’re constantly rehashing the things you wrote about before. But the more time you spend journaling, the more natural and enjoyable the process becomes.
Best Practices for a Journal Entry Session
Journaling may not be “fun” in the classical sense. Sometimes, journaling causes difficult emotions or memories to surface. But, writing in your journal should be something that helps you reflect, even if it comes with some difficult thoughts or emotions.
These best practices will help you get the most out of each journaling session.
Find a Safe and Quiet Place
Journaling is a mobile activity whether you prefer using an electronic device or a blank notebook. You can journal from a coffee shop, during your lunch break at work, or while on vacation.
While it is possible to journal anywhere, you want to be in a place where you feel comfortable and safe. You don’t want to feel like people are looking over your shoulder to see what you are writing. Concerns that someone might violate your privacy will inhibit your journaling process.
Clear Your Mind
As a mindfulness practice, try to journal with a clear, focused mind. Writing about a conflict from the past or concerns about your future is perfectly OK- and even useful.
Clearing your mind means giving your full attention to your journaling topic, whatever it is. Do your best to forget your home or work responsibilities and immerse yourself in the process.
Use a Journal Prompt
There’s nothing more frustrating than staring at a blank page without any ideas for writing. Writer’s block can happen even to the most seasoned writers. Using mental health journal prompts like those provided by a journaling app will help eliminate those blank pages and keep your pen (or keyboard) flowing.
Date Your Entry
One of the differences between keeping a mental health journal vs. a traditional journal is that you are aware your journal is a tool for improving your mental health. If you’re keeping track of symptoms, medication side effects, insights during therapy sessions, or therapy “homework,” dated entries will help you locate information when you need to review it.
Dating your journal entries also highlights your growth. You can look back through the pages of your journal and see how quickly you met specific goals or be reminded about goals you had forgotten.
Set a Time Limit
Many people share how they lose track of time when journaling. While forgetting to watch the clock is a positive thing and shows you are truly being mindful as you write, it can also create problems if you have other responsibilities.
On the other hand, some people struggle to write for more than a few minutes at a time. The downside of being too quick is that you may not allow yourself time to go deep into a topic and do the kind of journaling that will be helpful to your mental health.
In both cases, setting a time limit for writing is the answer. Start with committing to five minutes a day. Slowly build to 15 to 20 minutes of daily journal time. If you don’t have a busy schedule on certain days, allow yourself as much time as you want, but meet at least the minimum time you set for yourself.
Be Honest with Yourself
There’s no point in keeping a mental health journal if you’re not going to write honestly. Remember, no one else will see your journal, and you can password-protect it to ensure privacy.
Allow yourself to write what you want in the manner that you want. Curse, scream in all caps, get mad, be sad, misspell words, use bad grammar— just always be honest about your feelings and actions.
Use Positive Self Dialogue
You may already spend too much time engaged in negative self-talk if you have a mental health concern. Guilt, shame, and self-blame are common symptoms of many mental health concerns.
While you should feel free to write about any subject in a mental health journal, don’t allow your journal to become one more place where you put yourself down.
Use as much positive self-dialogue as possible, even when being honest. For example, instead of writing, “I’m so stupid. I made the same mistake at work again. Even though I apologized, but I’m sure the boss thinks I’m a loser,” write something like, “I made the same mistake again, but this time I apologized right away and did my best to correct the situation. I am making progress.”
Positive self-talk isn’t sugar-coating. It’s simply a method for being honest and gentle with yourself simultaneously.
Write What Feels Right
Your therapist suggested you write about X today, but your journaling app recommends writing about Z. A list of mental health journal prompts says A is today’s topic, but all you want to write about is how delicious lunch was today. Do that. Even the most mundane topic can lead to something meaningful if you follow the thread.
Keeping a mental health journal is something you do for yourself. While there is value in taking others’ recommendations, if something is weighing on your mind, even something that doesn’t seem that important, follow your instincts and write about it. It’s always possible that delicious lunch is tied to a core memory that could open up a new level of personal reflection.
Common Topics to Journal about For Your Mental Health
Having a set of topics to refer to helps provide inspiration for getting started or on the days you aren’t sure what to write. They also often reveal a theme in your journaling. Whether you’re looking for a fresh writing theme or browsing the pages of your mental health journal for insights, consider these common topics:
- Self-reflection on what you have learned about your character or motives
- Coping strategies that are productive or harmful
- Negative and positive feelings toward yourself, others, or situations
- Thought and behavioral patterns
- Things you are grateful for
- Goals, visions, and dreams
Looking at your journal topics without judgment is key. Sometimes it’s helpful to think of your journal as a book written by someone else. Instead of projecting your own expectations and criticisms of yourself, observe your most frequent journal topics with a sense of detachment, and see what you can learn from them.
Try These 21 Journaling Prompts for Mental Health
Your timer is set, you’ve got a fresh new page to write on, and you’re in a private place. It’s time to journal, but you’re fresh out of inspiration. Consider dividing your journaling prompts for mental health into categories that relate to your most significant challenges and needs.
Journal Prompts for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress
Journaling to relieve the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress doesn’t have to be a cathartic experience every time. Sometimes, you need a boost to get through a difficult moment or quiet negative thinking. The following prompts may help:
- What motivates me when I’m at my lowest?
- What are indicators that I’m feeling depressed?
- Am I noticing triggers that cause me anxiety?
- What physical symptoms am I experiencing, and when are they worse?
- What do I think is true about my thoughts, and what could also be true?
- What am I using to cope with bad or overwhelming feelings?
- What things make me feel better when I am stressed?
- What would I like to improve on or heal to live a happier life?
At the end of your journal entry, note one action you can take to feel better right now, and do it. Even something as basic as drinking a glass of water can make a big difference.
Journal Prompts for Self-Reflection, Self-Love, and Healing
When journaling to increase feelings of self-love and healing, try the technique known as stream of consciousness writing (SOC). SOC writing involves putting your pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and writing continuously until your pre-set time is up. No corrections, rereading, or analyzing is allowed.
The theory is that continuing to write without a break eliminates self-censoring and helps you get to the core of an issue. Choose any one of the following topics for SOC writing:
- What things make me happy that I could make a priority?
- What about me do I like?
- What about me do I want to improve?
- How can I live a more authentic life without fear of judgment?
- Are there negative patterns in my behavior that I or others are noticing?
- What grudges am I holding against myself or others, and why should I forgive those things?
Expressing love and compassion for yourself shouldn’t be difficult, but admittedly, it is for most people. Doing so in the privacy of your journal may make the process easier and even lead to a habit of thinking positively about yourself.
Journal Prompts for Daily Life and Goals for the Future
Setting goals and mapping out the steps to reach them is a satisfying exercise, especially when you’re feeling energetic and hopeful. But a lack of forward momentum can make you feel even worse about your situation. Instead of setting up goals as a pass/fail exercise, use these mental health prompts to discover a deeper meaning:
- What ambitions do I have, and how can I make steps toward them?
- What do I like about my career, and what do I want to change?
- Am I living a balanced life?
- What does my ideal life look like?
- What does success mean to me?
- What do I want for my future?
- Do I have any goals I can make actionable?
Mental health journal prompts like these will inspire you to think more clearly about what you want for your life. You may realize the goals you thought were important aren’t the things that matter most to you.
Ready to Enjoy the Benefits of Using Journaling Prompts for Mental Health?
Journaling is a mental health intervention that is 100% non-invasive, completely affordable, private, easy, and without adverse side effects. While it’s not an alternative to professional health care, journaling is an effective tool for people who are receiving mental health services and those who aren’t. Mental health professionals frequently recommend mental health journaling to clients.
Getting started with wellness journaling may feel odd or uncomfortable initially, especially for people who aren’t used to expressing their feelings. If you stick to a journaling habit, explore some new journaling ideas, and try more journal prompts, the process will soon feel like second nature.
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.
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The Day One journal app helps people incorporate mental health journaling into their daily lives. The award-winning design of Day One provides everything you need to reap the benefits of wellness journaling without any clutter or confusing features to discourage your journaling practice.