Journaling can be a powerful and therapeutic way to address anxiety and other mental health disorders. Use these mental health journal prompts to get started.
Parade.com has an extensive editorial partnership with Cleveland Clinic, consistently named as one of the nation’s best hospitals in U.S. News & World Report’s annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Click here to learn more about our health reporting policies.
From taking a walk in nature to sweating it out at the gym, the small habits you incorporate into your daily routine can have big therapeutic benefits for stress, depression and anxiety. Here’s another quick and easy practice to add to your regimen: journaling.
The idea of keeping a journal may seem intimidating, but it’s easier than you might think. For starters, you don’t have to be great with words to journal. It also doesn’t require a lot of time. A few minutes a day can reap real benefits, whether you’re tapping out your thoughts in an app or writing them with a fancy pen in an elegant book. (Even a scrap of paper or the back of a napkin works in a pinch.)
Despite its benefits, however, journaling shouldn’t replace treatment by a mental health professional. “It does not take the place of therapy,” says Chivonna Childs PhD, a counseling psychologist for Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “It should be used in conjunction with therapy if the problems are of significant concern.”
Think writing is right for you? Here’s how to get started.
How can journaling help mental health?
“Journaling can be a healthy way to express our innermost thoughts, get out our emotions or just empty our brains out,” Childs says. Think of journaling as an outlet for your anxieties, troubles, worries and fears. It can help you find clarity in situations that feel confusing and make peace with issues that are upsetting. Fact: The simple act of writing about strong emotions can lessen their intensity. Plus, journaling about things that are going well in life can create a shift from a negative to a more positive mindset.
What does science say about journaling for mental health? Journaling is associated with increased well-being and decreased mental distress, depressive symptoms and anxiety, a small study by researchers at Pennsylvania State University found. Other research shows journaling may reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and that writing about things you’re grateful for can improve your emotional state.
Just pay attention to how much you’re dwelling or fixating on negative thoughts or memories in your journal, as this can have a harmful effect on health. “The downside to journaling occurs when we’re perseverating on problems and not solutions,” Childs says.
How to get started journaling for mental health
There’s no right or wrong way to journal. Some people prefer to journal first thing in the morning to get ready for their day, while others prefer to write at night as part of their bedtime routine. Choose a time that works best for you: When do you have a spare five to 10 minutes to yourself to journal? What time of day are you most stressed? Does your daily to-do list feel overwhelming? Do you have trouble sleeping because you can’t quiet your mind?
“It should not feel like a pressure or a chore,” Childs says. “If you want to start with five minutes a day, that’s a good place. If you want to write until you’re tired of writing, that’s OK, too. Do what works for you.”
One type of journal isn’t necessarily better than another, either. The best journal is the one you’ll use, whether it’s a guided wellness or anxiety journal prefilled with prompts, a blank journal offering a clean slate for your thoughts, or an app or website.
Different journaling techniques
A journaling technique Childs recommends to her patients is the “brain dump,” where patients simply write down everything they’re thinking. “It does not have to make sense,” she says. “The only goal is to empty your mind of all the thoughts.” This approach can be helpful for people who have racing thoughts, she adds, as “transplanting” those thoughts from mind to paper may ease some of the brain’s frenetic pace.
Related: 101 Anxiety Quotes to Help You Get Through and Lift Your Spirits
Plus, over time, certain patterns or recurring thoughts may emerge in the writing. “This can also be a good way to organize your thoughts and see what themes are present, which might cue you to focus on areas you need to give attention to,” Childs adds.
Bullet journaling is another method that’s approachable, particularly for those who are new to journaling. You simply make bullet points of your thoughts as they come—no need for connected sentences or paragraphs. You could purchase a dedicated bullet journal, which typically looks more like a planner, or you could just make a list in a basic journal or on an app.
And finally, another easy type of journaling to try is a gratitude journal, which can help shift focus to the positive parts of your life. At the beginning or end of each day, take a few minutes to jot down a few things you’re grateful for—from the great cup of coffee you enjoyed in the morning to the sloppy kisses your dog gave you after work.
25 journal prompts for mental health
Want to write but not sure where to start? Choose a writing prompt from this list and write whatever comes to mind. Childs has included some of her favorites from this list, as well:
Related: 40 Mental Health Quotes to Lift Your Spirits and Help You Feel Less Alone
- List 5 things you’re grateful for today.
- What do you like most about your personality?
- Whom do you trust the most? Why?
- What are your strengths in friendships or relationships (e.g., kindness, empathy)?
- What do you most want for your children (or future children)?
- How do you draw strength from loved ones?
- What boundaries could you set in your relationships to safeguard your own wellbeing?
- What do you value most in your relationships, with romantic partners, friends or family?
- What five traits do you value most in potential partners?
- Write a love letter to yourself.
- What are three important lessons have you learned from previous relationships?
- What are three things that are working well in your current relationship?
- What are three things that could be better in your current relationship?
- How do you show compassion to others? How can you extend that same compassion to yourself?
- I get anxious when _____________.
- When do you feel most happy?
- What was one moment of joy or beauty you experienced today?
- Describe a place where you feel most relaxed and peaceful.
- Write a letter of forgiveness to yourself.
- What or who motivates you the most?
- Share an act of selflessness or kindness you did for someone. How did it feel to do this?
- What was your favorite story or book as a child? Why did you like it so much?
- What’s the most rewarding part of your work?
- What’s your favorite part of your day?
- Which parts of your daily life cause the most stress or frustration? How do you cope with them?
Additional Resources: If you’re concerned about your mental health and want to seek help, Childs recommends contacting a local mental health center or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) or Crisis Text Line (text “HELLO” to 741741 for free).
You can find any of your old notebooks that you may have only written five sentences in and start there. You can make any notebook or journal special just by giving it that intentional space.
You can look into bullet journaling, plain notebooks with no lines, a lined journal, or anything else that may seem interesting. Five Below typically sells books for under $5 that have guided topics and space for you to get creative. Whether you want to pick a journal because of its aesthetic, or whether the lines suit you just right, anything will work! Try to pick a journal that brings you joy when you look at it. Bright colors, happy quotes, sticker pages, etc. may do it for you!
Some days it may be hard to journal and you really may feel unmotivated. Like I said, make sure you write something, even if it is that you don’t want to. By being honest with ourselves, we are learning to be kind to our true emotions. You can also set a timer, perhaps a 5-10 minute writing period would be a good place to start your journaling journey.
Be intentional about when you do it. Try to make it a pattern of when you choose to journal so that it becomes a habit. Whether it is before bed, when you wake up in the morning, or during a break, anything will work.
Date your entries so that you can come back to them later on and see your progress! It will also give you time to reflect on your prior perspectives to see where you are at now.
Be honest and kind to yourself. No one will be reading your journal. Let whatever emotions flow out of you hit the page, and don’t judge yourself on the quality of your work or the significance of what you wrote. Just release and enjoy the time.
Write a letter to someone who has done you wrong. Discuss what they did and how it made you feel. Try to forgive them and rip it up if it feels right.
Describe a hardship you have had. How does it make you feel reflecting back on it? What do you feel you learned?
What is a quote that you want to manifest on for the rest of the week? How can you apply it to your life every day this week?
What self-care strategies have you used in the past? Rate them from 1-10, 10 being the most effective and helpful, 1 being the least.
Describe a situation in which you helped someone else. How do you think it made them feel? How did it make you feel?
Pick one positive word you’d like to focus on today and describe what it makes you feel or what you associate with it.
Write down three to five things that trigger feelings of anxiety in you and identify one to three coping strategies you can attempt to implement in response to these.
Write about an important person in your life who you are grateful for. What do you admire about this person, why have they had such an impact on your life, and what would you like to tell them?
It may be one of your only opportunities to really sit with your emotions and release them throughout the day. In our busy lives, we may not really get any alone time until we hit the pillow for bed. By making this time, we prioritize ourselves and our mental health.
It is a wonderful habit to stick to. Even if you write that you don’t want to write for an entire page in your journal, that is okay. Being kind to yourself is part of this whole process. Developing healthy and intentional releases in our lives will continue to make a positive impact.
It helps us identify triggers and patterns. Sometimes it can be helpful to go back through your journal and highlight things that you feel you improved on. When we document, we can take note of what may be causing us stress, who may be upsetting us regularly, etc.
Many of these prompts and ones like it provide solutions and help us start re-structuring our thinking towards positives.
It is a coping strategy that provides an opportunity for you to release your emotions and thoughts. It can be a nice way to clear your mind without feeling the pressure of having to share it with someone else.