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How to Start Journaling for Mental Health + Free PDF of Prompts

how to start journaling for mental health

If journaling is something you’ve been intrigued by, but just haven’t been able to bring yourself to do it, you’ve found yourself in the right place.

Because this article right here folks, is the ultimate guide to get you to start journaling for your mental health.

First, I’m going over some myths about journaling that might be getting in your way.

I’m also going to explain why it’s good for you to help you get inspired.

And, down at the bottom, I’m sharing tips for how to get the most out of journaling, especially if you want to journal for your mental health. And you’ll also see a free PDF of daily journal prompts to get you started.

Myths About Journaling

MYTH #1: You have to journal every day to benefit from it.

This is false. 

You can turn to journaling whenever you need it. It doesn’t have to be another item on your lengthy to-do list, or even a part of your daily routine (although if it becomes that, great!).

Personally, I go through phases where I journal more consistently than others. But most of the time, I tend to journal when I need some inspiration or need to work out some kind of stressor or conflict in my mind. Also, when I’m feeling distraught.

The Oxford definition for journaling is: to write in a journal or diary. That’s it. Nothing about how frequently is mentioned. Although I must admit, I believe this definition is a bit outdated, because I don’t think you need to write in a journal or diary for it to be considered “journaling.” Which brings me to the next myth:

MYTH #2: You have to have a pen and a notebook or paper to journal.

Nope!

You can use the notes in your phone, google docs, or even shoot yourself an email. There are even apps, like morning pages, that you can use as a virtual journal on your phone and/or your computer.

And if you can’t find the words, you can even draw, or collage, or scribble. Express yourself however you want.

But of course, if you want to get an inspirational notebook, go for it! Sometimes having that fresh new paper, or a smooth gel pen, can really help to motivate a person to get started.

(pro tip: don’t spend too much time deciding on the perfect pen and paper, or you’ll never get to the actual writing!)

MYTH #3: You have to be a good writer.

Again, not true.

Throw grammar, spelling, and forming complete sentences out the window. You don’t need any of that to journal. You don’t need to be prolific, and don’t worry too much about forming some deep insights or having a life-altering epiphany.

Because journaling isn’t so much about the writing – its about the reflecting. It’s about taking time for yourself to pause and explore your inner world. It’s about the process of expressing yourself as much as it is about the outcome of what you might discover.

What can journaling do for your mental health?

1. First and foremost, it is an excellent brain dump

We’ve all been there – too many thoughts, too much anxiety, all swirling around and tangled up in our brains. It can feel impossible to even focus, let alone find solutions to our worries.

Putting pen to paper can help you sort through all of those thoughts and physically dump any anxiety you’re feeling somewhere else. I kind of see it like hot yoga for your mind, but instead of sweating out the toxins, you’re writing out the toxins. 

2. It can help you gain awareness by tracking your patterns

When we keep repeating certain patterns, it’s often because we aren’t aware of what triggers them. And we may not know how to change these patterns right off the bat.

When you journal, you’re able to go a bit deeper into your thoughts and better understand why you feel, think, or behave a certain way. It can help you track what activities make you feel your best, and, also set intentions for how you may want to handle certain situations differently moving forward.

3. You’ll practice expressing yourself

Feelings are complex. And when we journal, we create a safe space for us to explore our feelings. Instead of reacting automatically to how we feel, we are giving ourselves time to pause, reflect, and LISTEN to our feelings. Usually, they are trying to tell us something important.

If you often feel completely overwhelmed by the way you feel, and want to learn how to navigate your emotions more effectively, I recommend you check out my Feelings Guide here. 

4. You can start to access new narratives about yourself

When you are overwhelmed by the thoughts in your mind, it can be really hard to look at your situation from a different perspective.

Taking the time to write them out slows you down enough to think things through a little more intentionally and explore other perspectives more thoroughly. I find when I journal, I open myself up to other possibilities that I wouldn’t have even thought about.

5. It’s a “me-time” activity that keeps on giving.

Sure, bubble baths are fun, but have you ever tried spending 30 minutes connecting with your inner world?

Journaling is one of the most emotionally nourishing ways to spend time with yourself. Because it isn’t just about the time you spend journaling – it’s about the long-term gains. 

You learn to reflect more deeply, problem solve more effectively, be kinder to yourself, and understand who you are. Journaling can help you get in touch with what you want out of life and figure out a way to make it happen. If that isn’t worth taking some time to sort out, I don’t know what is!

How to get the most out of journaling

Please remember: there is no right or wrong way to journal. You can do it HOWEVER you want, whenever you want, for as much time as you want.

These are tips to help you get the most out of journaling if your goal is to improve your mental health.

1. Write expressively instead of factually

What I mean by this, is when you journal, don’t just give the facts, or your plans for the day, or what you did over the weekend. Try to expand a bit. Explore your thoughts and feelings around your experiences.

Studies have found that this kind of expressive writing can significantly decrease symptoms of depression, while the more mundane, neutral writing didn’t have as great of an impact.

Expressing your emotions while writing in a journal might bring up some distress in the short term, but over the long term, can help you better understand yourself, process unresolved issues, and decrease rumination.

2. Use structure if that helps

If it’s difficult for you to start writing, or you find yourself getting stuck and now knowing what to write about, that’s okay! Don’t let that deter you.

These guidelines from the Center for Journal Therapy, are great suggestions to keep in mind if you’re feeling lost at any point in your journaling. Just remember the acronym, WRITE:

W – What. What do you want to write about? Think about what is present for you, what you feel good about, what you want to change, etc. Then go for it!

R – Reflect. It can help to give yourself a few moments before you begin to reflect a bit, center yourself, and review your intention for journaling.

I – Investigate. This is an opportunity to go a bit deeper than you normally would throughout your day. Be curious about what comes up for you, and explore it from many different angles.

T – Time. Gathering our thoughts and focusing can take some time. Try committing to 5 minutes minimum, if not more. And remember, you may need a few minutes to warm up, so if you find yourself struggling a bit at the beginning, that’s okay, Just give yourself some time.

E – Exit. Take a look at what you’ve written and review. What are the takeaways? Exiting the activity with intention can help you bring any insights back into day.

3. Use prompts

Although I do love a stream of consciousness journal entry, prompts can also be useful if you simply don’t know what to write about. Or, you’re looking for new ideas.

Prompts can also help you explore areas of your mental health that maybe you wouldn’t have thought about otherwise.

And they also help to keep the process fresh. When we have a new theme to discuss every time we open our journal, it can feel a little more exciting and motivating than the same ol’ entry every time.

30 daily journal prompts for your mental health

Last but not least, here is the list of prompts to help you care for your mental health.

I encourage you to choose whatever resonates, or you can even try one a day for the next month. To download the free PDF journal packet of one prompt each day for the next month, click here (no email required!).

If you want more, you can also get my free self-reflection guides, straight to your inbox.

So, what are you waiting for? You have all the tools to get started. Grab a pen and paper, (or the notes app on your phone) and go for it!

If you found any of this information helpful, let me know! I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me here.

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Hi! I'm Paige Rechtman

Cat Lover, Real Person, and LGBTQIA+ Friendly Therapist 🌈

therapist williamsburg brooklyn

I provide a judgment-free space for New Yorkers struggling with chronic work stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

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