Journaling Techniques

How to Start a Self-Care Journal to Improve Your Well-Being

Keeping a self-care journal can be a big step toward putting your physical, mental, and emotional health needs at the top of your priority list. By regularly reflecting on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a self-care journal, you can gain a deeper understanding of what makes you feel good and what triggers stress or anxiety.

Journaling for self-care can be an easy way to practice self-care. In this post, we’ll explore the benefits of using a self-care journal as part of your self-care routine and provide you with ideas, tips, and strategies for starting your own journal. We’ll also share a few self-care journal prompts and a free self-care journal template to help guide your writing. 

The Importance of Self-Care

If you’re like many people, taking care of yourself is something you do if you have time after all your work, family, and daily responsibilities are complete. Self-care can seem like a chore or an indulgence you don’t have time for, but prioritizing self-care is essential for your overall health and well-being. When you neglect self-care, you may experience physical and emotional exhaustion, burnout, and reduced productivity. By making self-care a priority and incorporating it into your daily routine, you can increase your energy, focus, and resilience.  

The reality is people stretch themselves thin to meet the high demands of modern life. At the same time, the number of people with mental health disorders continues to rise. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, at least 6.8 million adults in the U.S. have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and the National Institute of Mental Health reports that around 15 million U.S. adults have experienced at least one major depressive episode.

The adage, “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” is true because taking care of yourself is essential for being more present, effective, and compassionate in our relationships and work. Self-care is not a selfish act, but rather a necessary foundation for living a fulfilling and meaningful life.

By making self-care a priority and regularly practicing self-reflection through tools such as a self-care journal, we can ensure that our cups are full and ready to overflow into the lives of those around us. Self-care isn’t the answer to every problem, but treating yourself well can help improve your mental and physical health and make you feel more prepared to tackle life’s challenges. 

Examples of Self-Care

Self-care is about making intentional choices that support your overall well-being and happiness. In addition to keeping a journal, here are some examples of self-care practices that can be helpful for improving physical, mental, and emotional well-being:

  • Physical self-care: Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy and balanced diet, staying hydrated, exercising regularly, getting regular check-ups and medical care, taking breaks from electronic devices, spending time in nature, taking care of personal hygiene, getting a massage, and engaging in activities that bring joy and relaxation.
  • Emotional self-care: Practicing self-compassion, expressing emotions in a healthy way (through journaling or talking to a trusted friend), setting healthy boundaries, saying “no” when necessary, cultivating positive relationships and social support, engaging in activities that bring joy and meaning, and seeking professional help when needed.
  • Mental self-care: Practicing mindfulness and meditation, engaging in activities that challenge and stimulate the mind, setting realistic goals, learning new skills or pursuing hobbies, seeking mental health support when needed, and dealing with stress and anxiety through relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation.

What Is a Self-Care Journal?

A self-care journal is a safe place to track your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors related to taking care of yourself. Self-care journaling typically involves daily or regular writing prompts to encourage reflection on your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, as well as activities and practices that support physical, mental, and emotional health. The purpose of a self-care journal is to become more self-aware by identifying areas of life that may be causing stress or anxiety, and develop strategies for coping with these challenges in a healthy and sustainable way.

Just as there are many different approaches to taking care of yourself, there are many ways to keep a self-care journal. Your self-care journal can take any form you like, whether you write in a plain notebook or take advantage of technology like the Day One journal app. (Many people opt to journal on e-devices because they can write quickly and they always have their devices with them.) Keeping a self care journal also doesn’t have to be limited to writing text. You can express your thoughts and feelings through photos, drawings, personal symbols, or even emojis if that works for you.

A self-care journal is a safe place to track your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors related to taking care of yourself. Self-care journaling typically involves daily or regular writing prompts to encourage reflection on your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, as well as activities and practices that support physical, mental, and emotional health.

Regardless of the type of journal you keep, the purpose of a journal for self-care is therapeutic. Journaling for self-care gives you a reason to set aside a small amount of focused time for yourself every day. Keeping a journal can also help you keep track of the ways you are taking care of yourself and your needs on a daily basis.

A person uses a notebook and laptop computer as their self-care journal

Why You Should Create a Self-Care Journal

Mental health professionals often encourage keeping a journal as a complementary tool to therapy. But you don’t need to be depressed, anxious, or even unhappy to benefit from journaling. 

The benefits of journaling are numerous, no matter where you are in your self-growth journey. If you need more convincing, consider the following reasons to journal.

1. Self-Care Journaling Improves Your Mental Health

Journaling, also known as expressive writing, supports good mental health in multiple ways. The act of writing down your worries is stress-busting. One study showed that journaling for 12 weeks significantly reduced feelings of stress in study participants.

Writing also helps stop the habit of ruminating, which means dwelling on negative thoughts. Simply writing about what concerns you relieves stress, but you can take the method further. Instead of just writing, “I’m worried I’m going to lose my job,” you can use your journal to play out the scenario. What would happen if you lost your job? What new opportunities might open up? 

Your worrying self probably only imagines the worst-case scenario, but those scenarios are likely not the reality. Journaling through journal prompts for mental health can help you realize all the good things that could come from changes in your life.

2. Self-Care Journaling Increases Self-Awareness

Awareness of your thoughts, feelings, actions, and reactions provides insight into why you feel or act a certain way. Once you understand your own needs better, you can take more effective steps toward meeting them with a deeper sense of self-awareness.

Journaling provides an opportunity for self-reflection and introspection that can help you cultivate greater self-awareness. By writing down your thoughts and emotions in a self-care journal, you can begin to recognize patterns in your behavior, identify triggers for stress or anxiety, and gain clarity on your values and priorities. This awareness can be particularly helpful when it comes to managing your own self-care. For example, you might notice that you feel more energized and focused after a morning workout, or that you tend to feel anxious when you haven’t had enough sleep. Armed with this knowledge, you can create a self-care routine that is tailored to your unique needs and preferences, and that is more likely to be sustainable over time.

3. Self-Care Journaling Helps You Manage Your Emotions

Everyone loses their temper or feels depressed occasionally, but if extreme emotions or mood swings affect your daily life, self-care journaling can help you stay more balanced. Noting when you feel distressed, anxious, or sad and what was happening when those emotions occurred may reveal patterns in your thoughts or behaviors you hadn’t noticed before.

Self-care journaling can also identify triggers that lead to imbalanced emotions. To make the most of this tool, include as much information as possible when writing about emotional ups and downs. Skipping meals, not getting enough sleep, the weather, and even being in certain locations could trigger depression or anxiety. Keeping a mood journal can help serve as a record that may let you see your mood patterns more clearly.

4. Self-Care Journaling Helps You Find Solutions

When you’re in the thick of a problem, it’s difficult to find answers. Journaling is a great way to develop new solutions. Try brainstorming or stream-of-consciousness techniques that help you get out of your normal way of thinking and encourage creative problem-solving.

Using journal prompts is also a smart way to find new solutions. Prompts can connect you with your unconscious mind differently than traditional writing does. For example, a prompt that asks you to write about three things you love about yourself may not seem solution-oriented, but remembering your strengths may help you realize the solution to a current problem.

5. Self-Care Journaling Builds Self-Confidence

Self-confidence is an essential element of good mental health. Without it, you settle for less than you deserve. Self-care journaling is an opportunity to record and reflect on your accomplishments. Go ahead and brag on yourself. No one but you will see it.

Make a list of the difficult things you’ve managed in life, along with specific examples that demonstrate your abilities, strengths, or determination. Write about your big and small successes. In the daily grind, it’s too easy to forget about the many things you do correctly every day. Journaling about them is a great way to remind yourself how strong, capable, and resilient you are.

6. A Self-Care Journal is a Safe Place to Vent

Sometimes self-care looks like blowing off steam, but you don’t want to vent in a way that could be self-destructive. A journal is a safe outlet for sharing anger, frustration, hurt feelings, and any other negative emotions you may be experiencing. 

Venting can also give you multiple ideas for future journal entries. Reflecting on your anger or frustration can provide ideas on how better self-care might have improved the situation.

7. Self-Care Journaling Enhances Your Sense of Control

There is so much in life we simply can’t control. However, keeping a self-care journal can be a helpful tool for managing these feelings and finding a sense of peace and control amidst the chaos.

Journaling itself is a healthy habit you can control. You control the look and style of your journal, the content that goes in it, who (if anyone) gets to read it, and how often you write. Your journal is 100% your own creation.

8. Self-Care Journaling Helps You Stay on Track with Your Goals

Goal setting and achieving goals are easier when you write them down. Journaling goals can help you plan the big and small steps to reach a goal, and celebrate when you accomplish one of those steps. 

Personal goals sometimes get put on the back burner as work and family responsibilities consume your time. Writing your plans in a journal helps keep those important goals at the front of your mind and provides a map to achieving them.

9. Journaling Can Help You Heal

By giving you an outlet to express your thoughts and feelings, journaling can help you process difficult emotions and experiences. Journaling to heal can lead to a greater sense of clarity, calmness, and well-being. By setting aside time to journal regularly, you are sending a message to yourself that your well-being is important and worth investing in.

A person writes in an empty notebook for self-care journaling

How to Start a Self-Care Journal

Creating a self-care journal is a completely individual experience. Remember that you’re in charge. 

1. Decide on a format. 

Would you prefer handwriting, or are you more comfortable with a keyboard? Is tapping your thoughts out on your phone when you have time more your style? Don’t be afraid to experiment with a few different formats until you find the one that works best for you.

2. Choose a focus.

Once you’ve decided what kind of journal you want to use, think about the focus of your writing. Journal entries can cover any and every aspect of life, but when you start your journaling practice, solidifying the habit might be easier if you have a specific focus. 

Set aside a few minutes each day to reflect on your experiences, emotions, and needs. You might start by simply jotting down a list of things you’re grateful for, or describing a recent challenge and how you overcame it. Maybe your self-care goal is to improve your physical fitness, or maybe it’s to heal from trauma you experienced earlier in life. 

Choosing a focus doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write about whatever is on your mind. But concentrating most of your entries or tying them back to your focus may yield the best progress. As you get more comfortable with the process, you can experiment with different prompts and exercises to deepen your self-awareness and promote self-care. 

3. Commit to a regular schedule.

The last step in creating your journal is committing to a regular schedule. Most avid journalers prefer to write first thing in the morning before the challenges of the day fill their minds. Others like to write before bed so they can reflect on the day.

Whatever time works best for you is the best time. If you want to write more than once a day, that’s fantastic. If not, just try to be consistent and spend a few minutes journaling every day. Using the reminder feature on the Day One app can help you stick with a consistent writing schedule.

Don’t overcomplicate your journaling process or commit to an impossible schedule. Writing should be a pleasant experience you look forward to, not a chore you want to avoid. As long as your journaling habits improve your life, they work. 

A person writes outdoors as a form of self care

The Benefits of a Self-Care Journal

As we covered in the previous section, there are so many ways journaling will improve your life. Once you get started, you’ll wonder why you haven’t been keeping a journal all along. 

Here’s a recap of some of the most powerful benefits of a self-care journal:

  • Improved well-being
  • Increased self-confidence
  • Clarifying thoughts and feelings
  • Learning more about yourself
  • Boosting your emotional intelligence and emotional resilience
  • Increasing empathy for yourself and others
  • Managing stress and anxiety in a healthy way
  • Improving relationships by knowing yourself better (journaling about relationships, specifically, can help)
  • Building memory
  • Inspiring creativity
  • Keeping a focused mind 
  • Enhancing your critical thinking skills
  • Seeing things from a new perspective
  • Bettering writing and communication skills

Journal writing can also improve your physical health. A study on expressive writing found that participants lowered their blood pressure, improved liver function, boosted their immune system, and improved their athletic performance, all from journaling.

6 Self-Care Journaling Ideas

Whether you’re new to journaling or have been writing for years, there are many styles to explore. There’s no need to limit yourself, so experiment with the following journaling ideas and any others you might discover. Don’t be afraid to mix styles, depending on how you feel like reflecting on a given day.

1. Art Journaling

Art journaling is a creative blend of writing, drawing, painting, collage, and any other artistic expression you want to explore. You don’t have to be an artist to enjoy art journaling. The goal is to find a method for journaling about feelings you may be unable to express or understand with plain words. 

2. Gratitude Journaling

A gratitude journal can take many forms. You can simply list all the nice things that happened in a day or write at length about one thing you’re grateful for. 

Gratitude journaling is especially helpful for those struggling with depression because positive behavior affects biology. Expressing gratitude or making positive gestures of almost any kind causes your brain to release oxytocin, the “love hormone,” and increases feelings of happiness.

A laptop, notebook, and cup of coffee

3. Reflective Journaling

All journaling is reflective in a way. But a reflective journal focuses on writing about experiences that had a profound (negative or positive) impact on your life. 

Many people who enjoy reflective journaling follow a similar format. Try journaling about the experience, asking yourself questions about it, such as, “How did I deal with that situation?” and objectively reflecting on what you learned.

4. Stream of Consciousness Journaling

Stream of consciousness journaling helps you access deep thoughts and feelings you may not be aware of. Journaling prompts can be extremely helpful with stream of consciousness writing

The goal is to choose a topic and write for the full allotted time. Don’t take a break, make corrections, or erase any of your thoughts. When you can’t think of anything else to write, write sentences like, “I can’t think of anything,” or “keep writing, keep writing,” until the next thought comes to you.

5. Bullet Journaling

Bullet journaling will appeal to those who love organization. This list and tracking approach to journaling is a relatively new system developed by author Ryder Carroll. Bullet journaling includes schedules, to-do lists, reminders, and brainstorming exercises.

6. Nature Journaling

If you love nature, you’ll appreciate this thoughtful approach to journaling. Nature journaling is the practice of observing and writing about nature. You can write detailed descriptions about a favorite landscape or sit on your porch and write about your observations of neighborhood wildlife. The practice of nature journaling is calming and helps you increase your attention to the details around you.

What to Write in Your Self-Care Journal

There’s no end to what you can write about in your self-care journal. Whatever is on your mind is fair game. However, regardless of your styles or techniques, do your best not to edit or censor yourself as you write. Let the words flow freely. 

Common topics for a self-care journal include:

  • An overview of your day, focusing on the good things that happened
  • A gratitude list
  • A favorites list
  • A list of ways you have practiced self-care for the day
  • A happy memory
  • Goals or priorities
  • How you feel physically or emotionally in the moment
  • Mental health tracking
  • Positive affirmations or mantras to repeat daily
  • Your five-year plan
  • What you’re looking forward to
  • Things that worry you the most or stresses you are letting go of
  • Inspirational quotes or words, and what they mean to you

Of course, self-care should be a priority with this type of journal. Try writing about new self-care ideas you want to try, like getting a pedicure or meditating. Writing about these things doesn’t mean you have to do them. It’s an opportunity to explore new ideas you might be interested in.

Self-Care Journal Template

When starting your self-care journal routine, having a journal template to structure your journal entry can be a great way to help you know what to write about. Here’s a free self-care journal template you can use that includes sections for reflecting on how you feel, what you’re grateful for, a daily affirmation, and ways you can care for yourself each day:

An example self-care journal template

Self-Care Journal Prompts

Using journal prompts is one of the best ways to get started with journaling and keep up your interest in the practice. Some prompts seem difficult to relate to at first, but don’t let that stop you from trying them. You can learn a lot from the easy suggestions, but the challenging ones may inspire you to dig deeper and have the greatest insights.

Consider this list of self-care journal prompts to get started:

  • What are my favorite forms of self-care?
  • What makes me feel calm?
  • What makes me feel powerful?
  • How do I like to relax and recharge?
  • Write a letter of encouragement to myself from the perspective of a dear friend or loved one.
  • What’s one thing I could do today that honors my needs?
  • Write about a time I trusted my judgment and had success.
  • How do I use alone time?
  • How do I practice self-love?
  • What is the biggest source of stress in my life, and what can I do about it?
  • List three different ways of asking for help.
  • Finish this sentence: I am enough because…
  • What helps me feel more present?
  • What does setting boundaries mean, and what are my boundaries?
  • What is something I am doing today I once thought I could never do?
  • What is a hobby I once enjoyed but gave up? Why?
  • Recall a happy memory. Who was with me, and what were we doing?

If focusing an entire journal on your self-care seems overwhelming, try to use a self-care prompt one or two times a week instead of every day. The more you write about your needs and the positive things you do for yourself, the more accustomed you’ll become to focusing on your self-care routine.

Wrapping Up

Self-care journaling helps you express your emotions and can reveal thoughts and needs you didn’t realize you had. That’s part of the power of writing. By starting a self-care journal today, you can tap into this power and begin the process of prioritizing your well-being. You don’t need to be an expert writer or have any specific goals in mind—all you need a willingness to be honest with yourself. Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to journal—the most important thing is that you make it a regular practice and use it as a tool to prioritize your own well-being. So start your self-care journal today—your mind, body, and soul will thank you for it. Happy journaling!

Start a Self-Care Journal in the Day One App

The Day One journaling app makes it easy to build and maintain a daily journaling habit, including keeping a dream journal. Daily journaling writing prompts, reminders, and journaling streaks are designed to help keep you motivated and consistently journaling.

About the Author

Kristen Webb Wright is the author of three books on journaling, including The Transformation Year, a year-long series of daily journal prompts. With a passion for writing and self-reflection, Kristen uses her experience with journaling to help others discover the benefits of documenting their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In her role at Day One, she helps to promote the power of journaling so people from all walks of life can experience the transformative power of journaling.

A photo of author and journaling expert, Kristen Webb Wright

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