3 benefits of journaling for mental health

3 benefits of journaling for mental health

Reviewed by:
Brenda Camacho, MD
Staff Psychiatrist
at Talkiatry
July 4, 2023
In this article

You may think of journaling as just a hobby, but it actually has plenty of science-backed mental health benefits, and aids in self-reflection, stress management, and self-improvement. Consider it a powerful tool in your self-care toolbox: a simple, accessible activity that can deliver powerful well-being and mental health effects. This may explain why it’s so frequently recommended for people with certain mental health conditions.

Here, we explore exactly why journaling is so effective—and offer our best tips for starting your own journaling practice.

What is journaling?

There’s no right or wrong way to practice journaling (and no writing skills required!). The main idea is to get the thoughts in your head down onto paper in any way that feels meaningful to you. This could mean writing down lists of worries or fears, recording short- or long-form narratives of your feelings and experiences, writing down poetry, prayers, or even a list of what you’re grateful for.

Some people journal in even more nontraditional ways, like by making sketches, collages, or paintings. How does self-expression come most easily and naturally to you? That’s a good place to start your own journaling routine. Let those thoughts flow!

How can journaling benefit mental health?

Journaling can be a key practice to help you process negative emotions in a healthy way—but exactly what types of benefits can you expect to notice? Here’s a closer look at some of the ways journaling may benefit your mental health.

1. It can help you develop self-awareness

Self-awareness is a key tool for maintaining your mental health and writing down your thoughts, actions, and feelings is a great way to foster it. As you reflect on your experiences, you may be able to identify patterns or triggers for your thoughts and feelings—both good and bad.

Do certain relationships leave you feeling drained or depressed? Does engaging in a certain hobby help you feel calm and centered? These insights can help you make positive changes in your behavior or thought patterns and improve your overall mental health. An added bonus? If you’re already working with a psychiatrist or therapist, you can bring your reflections to your sessions for additional guidance.

2. It can reduce the power of negative events

It may sound counterintuitive, but researchers believe that writing about negative events you’ve experienced can actually make you less likely to fixate on those events.

Living through any kind of stressful or traumatic event can reduce your ability to focus on the present moment by anchoring your thoughts in the past. You may even find that your ability to come up with strategies and coping skills for new or existing problems in your life is impaired. Writing about past traumas can help free up your mental resources, reducing the power of these memories and allowing you to be more present with current challenges.

3. It can help control worry and anxiety

Listing your worries can actually help minimize them, benefiting your mental well-being. Simply put, writing down your fears can help you leave them behind when you’re done writing. Plus, having a designated “worry time” to focus exclusivelyon your fears and concerns might bring some relief by itself. You may notice that the things you’re most worried about are what could happen, not what is happening.

These effects can be powerful even in more serious cases. Research has shown that journaling can reduce the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

How can you start journaling?

If you’ve never tried journaling before, it’s a good idea to start small. Suddenly spending hours writing down all your thoughts and feelings might feel intimidating, even impossible! But remember: it’s absolutely not necessary to write down everything to experience the benefits of journaling. Even writing down a single thought or worry a day can help you to develop and strengthen this healthy habit.

Some people like to write by hand in an actual physical journal, while others prefer the notes app on their phone or a Google doc. Some people prefer stream-of-consciousness journaling; that is, writing down every thought that comes into their head without editing. Others like bullet journals or to-do lists. Others might sketch or draw. Truly, the type of journaling doesn’t matter as long as it feels good to you!

If you’re still not sure where to begin, there are many prompts that can be a great starting point.

Journaling prompts for mental health

  • What did I do today?
  • One of the most basic places to start, for a reason! Writing about the events of your day may inspire you to focus on particularly stressful, memorable, or significant experiences.
  • What am I worried about today?
  • Giving yourself a designated “worry time” can help release your fears and anxieties.
  • How am I feeling today?
  • List out all the emotions you’re feeling in this moment.
  • What are things I’m grateful for in my life?
  • Focusing on gratitude (“gratitude journaling”) can help cultivate a positive outlook.
  • What is a goal in my life that I'm working towards?
  • Describe the steps you are taking to achieve that goal.
  • What is something I’m proud of accomplishing this week?
  • Has anything triggered an unwanted emotion for me recently?
  • If so, what did you do in response?
  • What’s a favorite memory that I think about when I’m stressed out?

When should you see a psychiatrist?

Journaling can be an extremely useful tool for anyone’s mental health, but if you’re finding it’s not enough to help curb your worries or negative thoughts, it may be a sign to consider professional help. If you find yourself plagued by excessive anxiety or intrusive or depressing thoughts, especially if those thoughts are interfering with your daily life, you may have an underlying mental health condition.

The first step to treating any mental health condition is getting a clinical diagnosis from a qualified mental healthcare professional, like a psychiatrist. Treatment works, and can make a huge difference in your symptoms and quality of life.

With Talkiatry, you can see a psychiatrist from the comfort of your home and you can schedule your first appointment in a matter of days. To get started, take our free online assessment, to see if Talkiatry is right for you and get matched with a psychiatrist.

About Talkiatry

Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.

The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

Sources:

Efficacy of journaling in the management of mental illness: a systematic review and meta-analysis | NCBI

A new reason for keeping a diary | APA

Efficacy of Pennebaker's expressive writing intervention in reducing psychiatric symptoms among patients with first-time cancer diagnosis: a randomized clinical trial | NCBI

Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing | Advances in Psychiatric Treatment | Cambridge Core

Efficacy of journaling in the management of mental illness: a systematic review and meta-analysis | PMC

Dr. Brenda Y. Camacho holds the position of Staff Psychiatrist at Talkiatry. She is board-certified in Adult Psychiatry. She has been practicing for over 25 years.

While having treated a wide range of adult patients, Dr. Camacho’s primary focus is treating adult outpatients with mood or psychotic disorders. Her practice focuses on medication management. Typically, she offers this in conjunction with supportive or insight-oriented therapy in 30-minute follow-up visits. On occasion, Dr. Camacho will believe additional therapy is also needed and asks that you bring a therapist into your care team to provide the best outcome.

Dr. Camacho completed her undergraduate studies at Tufts University. She received her medical degree from Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, PA and then continued with Temple for her residency in adult psychiatry. After completing training, Dr. Camacho worked at Cooper Hospital in Camden NJ as Associate Director of Consultation/Liaison Service and Psychiatry Residency Training and Co-Director of the Neuropsychiatry Clinic. She then began working exclusively in outpatient settings, joined NewPoint Behavioral Health Care, and served as Medical Director before and after their merge with Acenda Integrated Health.

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