How to start journaling for mental health: 7 tips and techniques

Did you know one of the most powerful self-improvement activities is right at your fingertips? No, it’s not working out or having good sleep hygiene. It’s something even simpler — learning how to start journaling. Although it’s been around for thousands of years, journaling is currently having a moment in the limelight. From self-help blogs to famous authors like Deepak Chopra, everyone is talking about the life-changing benefits of learning how to journal.

Source: BetterUp

Despite its recent soar in popularity, this isn’t just a new-age self-help trend. If practiced consistently, it can transform your mental fitness, emotional well-being, and even physical well-being.

Let’s explore the importance of keeping a journal and how to incorporate this powerful habit into your daily life.

Relates Articles:

What is journaling?

Journaling involves writing down your thoughts and feelings as you navigate everyday life. Journaling can help you understand and work through your emotions, especially when you’re feeling anxious or sad. It can also help you grow, become more self-aware, and gain meaningful insights.

The beauty of journaling is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. It’s a deeply personal experience that can take many forms.

One day, journaling could look like a diary entry, similar to the ones you may have written when you were a teenager. The next day it can be a list of things that bring you joy or a list of goals you want to achieve.

Developing a journaling habit can help you work through your emotions, especially when you’re feeling anxious or sad. It can also help you grow, become more self-aware, and gain meaningful insights.

For these reasons, journaling is one of the best self-improvement tools.

Having said that, it’ll come as no surprise that some of the most successful people in the world, including Richard Branson, Warren Buffet, and Arianna Huffington have kept journals throughout their lives.

5 types of journaling

Each person is different. You might want to use your journal to reflect on your behaviors, while your friend might want to keep track of their daily habits. Being clear about the intention of your journal will help inform the type you decide to start keeping.

Here are five common types of journaling to get you started:

1. Daily journaling

As the name suggests, this is a journal that you write in every day. The contents differs from other types of journaling, however, as you focus on sharing what you did and how you felt about it each day.

This type of journaling can be helpful for individuals experiencing life changes or wanting to keep track of a period of their life. It can also be useful to kick off when starting a new job or career. Having a daily journal will be a great resource to look back on to see how far you’ve grown. It can also serve as a reference if you feel life is moving too quickly.

2. Visual journaling

When most people think about starting a journal, they think of writing. But visual journaling is mostly made up of images. Each entry uses drawings to tell your story. These can be simple line drawings, storyboards, comic strips, or stylized sketches. Experiment with different types of drawings to see which works best for you.

This type of journalism is good for individuals who do not enjoy writing or have difficulty expressing themselves with words. You might find language limiting and prefer a more visual representation of your journal entries.

3. Stream of consciousness/free writing journaling

Many writers use free writing as a warm-up before jumping into their novel or other long-form text. But it can be a useful tool for starting a journal, too. With stream-of-consciousness journaling, you write down thoughts as they flow through your mind.

It can be difficult for your fingers to keep up with your brain, so don’t worry about your handwriting or spelling errors. The main goal here is to get the bulk of your conscious thoughts out so that you can unearth your deeper ideas and perspectives. You can start this kind of journal with an intention in mind or just jump in and see where it takes you.

4. Gratitude journaling

Studies show that gratitude is linked to happiness. Developing gratitude and a strong gratitude practice is shown to strengthen relationships and develop greater resilience in individuals. So starting to write a gratitude journal can be highly beneficial. Even adding a few bullets for things or people you are grateful for to your existing journal practice has benefits.

You can structure your gratitude journal in different ways. You can list the things you’re grateful for, weave them into a larger entry, or format them as short thank-you notes. You can then choose to keep these private or share them with others.

5. Bullet journaling

You may have seen a bullet journal and wondered how to use one. Instead of lines, they have evenly spaced dots to guide your entries. Bullet journals are highly customizable. They can be used to track everything from your mood to your daily steps. Or you can use one page as an agenda with bullets for reflections such as “one thing that made my day today” or “my intention for today.”

Benefits of journaling

While the act of writing things down seems simple enough, the results are powerful. Here are just some of the benefits of keeping a journal.

1. Improves mental well-being

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented stress and uncertainty into our lives.

During this time, 4 in 10 adults in the US have experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression.

One way to deal with intense emotions and uncertainty during difficult times is to find a healthy outlet for them in the form of a journal. Journaling is proven to have a positive effect on mental health and reduce the effects of anxiety and depression.

2. Strengthens the immune system and recovery time

You’ve likely heard the expression, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, it turns out journaling can have the same effect.

In a 2018 Cambridge study, participants were asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding the most stressful or upsetting events in their lives.

Four months later, those who wrote about their experiences for 15 minutes a day reported fewer visits to the doctor and fewer sick days.

3. Gives you a place to express gratitude

One of the best ways to express gratitude is by keeping a gratitude journal and writing down things you’re thankful for. Gratitude is proven to activate areas of the brain that are connected to positive emotions.

Feeling grateful also overpowers negative emotions, boosts optimism, and makes you more compassionate.

4. Helps you work through challenges

Journaling is proven to help people heal past wounds and challenging experiences.

A recent Duke University study asked participants who experienced a recent traumatic event to undergo a six-week writing ‘intervention.’ This consisted of various writing prompts, including expressive, poetic, transactional, and mindful journaling.

The study found that writing increased participants’ resilience and decreased stress.

5. Helps you set and accomplish goals

One of the most effective ways to achieve your goals is to write them down.

Putting your goals on paper helps you visualize them more clearly. Visualization is a powerful technique used by elite athletes and CEOs. It involves imagining that what you want to achieve is already yours.

In 2020, Dr. Gail Matthews from the Dominican University of California found that people who write down their goals have a higher chance of accomplishing them when compared to those that don’t.

The importance of journaling

The only way to reap all the rewards that come with journaling is to be consistent. This means making journal entries a daily habit rather than an occasional hobby.

Writing daily is a powerful way to do inner work. It can lead to insights and breakthroughs and help you process difficult emotions and situations.

Learning how to write a journal is also a great mindfulness practice because it helps you focus on the present moment.

Being present without worrying about the past or future is a very calming and peaceful feeling that relaxes the mind and body.

The calming effects of daily journaling can also help treat emotional exhaustion. For example, incorporating 20 minutes of journaling into your nighttime routine can help you unload heavy feelings of stress before bed.

What to write in a journal

This is a personal decision, and it can change over time. You might start your journal to gain clarity about what career you want and then adapt it to include a goal strategy.

Here are some ideas to get you thinking about how you might want to use your own journal and what to write in it:

  • Personal or career goals
  • What you are grateful for
  • Quotes that inspire or motivate you
  • Reflections or revelations
  • Questions you hope to answer at a later date
  • Things you want to improve
  • Compliments to yourself
  • A long-term vision of where you want to be
  • Your activities and what you’ve done and experienced
  • Blockers or frustrations you’re struggling to overcome
  • What you eat in a day and how you feel afterward

How to start journaling (and make it a habit)

Starting a journal can seem intimidating at first. Like any other habit, it takes a while before it becomes a repetitive part of your lifestyle.

Here are some journaling tips to help you start and keep a journal.

1. Find the journaling techniques that work for you

Many people prefer keeping a paper journal because it helps them develop and express ideas more clearly. But putting pen to paper isn’t the only way to journal.

When you first begin writing, it’s important to find the method that works best for you. You may find that the ease of using a laptop makes journaling more enjoyable for you. You also don’t have to limit yourself to one method.

2. Let go of judgments (write for your eyes only)

There’s no right or wrong way to journal. When you’re writing, it’s important to practice self-compassion and leave your inner critic at the door. Journaling is a judgment-free zone.

Don’t worry about things like grammar or spelling. You’re writing for your eyes only, not for an audience.

When you’re self-critical or afraid someone will read your journal, you tend to censor yourself and be less authentic and honest.

3. Keep expectations realistic

When you first begin journaling, don’t expect to write pages upon pages filled with insightful thoughts.

Having unrealistic expectations can actually discourage you from continuing your journaling practice because you don’t immediately see progress.

Like any other habit, you need to set realistic goals and take baby steps in order to see results.

4. Create a writing routine

It’s easy to write on days when you’re feeling inspired and motivated. But what about when you’re not?

Creating a writing routine and scheduling journaling time can help you stay on track, even on days when you’re feeling uninspired.

For example, you can set time aside every morning after breakfast or every evening before bed, even if it’s just for five to ten minutes. This time blocking method allows you to prioritize journaling and incorporate it into your schedule.

5. Journal about anything that comes to mind

When it comes to what you want to write about, the possibilities are limitless. You can write about your day, your thoughts and emotions, or something that inspired you.

You can also use it as an outlet to release heavy emotions like anger, frustration, or sadness. Putting these feelings down on paper can free you from having them lingering in your mind.

6. Use journal prompts

There will be days when you’re staring at your journal and thinking, “what should I write in my journal?”

Don’t fret — there are countless journaling prompts online that can help you overcome your writer’s block. Here’s a list of things to journal about on the days you feel blocked:

  • A list of things and people you’re grateful for
  • A recent situation that challenged you
  • An (unsent) letter to someone in your life
  • Small things that bring you joy throughout the day
  • The best decision you’ve ever made
  • Daily positive affirmations

7. Get creative

Don’t be afraid to express yourself and be creative. Journal writing isn’t just prose. It can be poetry, sketching, art, lyrics, or anything else that allows you to express yourself.

How beginners can keep the habit

Learning how to start journaling is the easy part. It’s making it a daily habit that takes self-discipline.

But nobody said building good habits happens overnight.

If you stick to it, you’ll start to see the positive outcomes of journaling manifest in your personal and professional life. Use it as a tool for personal growth, self-discovery, relaxation, or visualization. There’s no right or wrong way to journal. Make it your own.