Writing for Mental Health

Keeping a journal, or journaling, can be a powerful tool to help maintain and improve overall wellness and to help address specific mental health challenges.

Keeping a journal is simply the act of writing daily about your experiences, observations, thoughts and feelings. It allows you to reflect on not only what happened during the day, but how you reacted, what you were thinking and how you were feeling.

Journaling can provide general wellness and self-improvement benefits, such as making you more self-aware, boosting creativity and helping you build better habits. Journaling can help you better understand your feelings and emotions and help you manage stress. Writing about things that have frustrated or upset you can help you to let go of some of the stress and gain perspective.


Journaling can also help to address specific mental health concerns and it is sometimes used as part of psychotherapy. A journal can help you track how you’ve been feeling and functioning over time and how you may have handled difficulties in the past. It can also help you identify areas that you want to focus on or change.

In psychotherapy, a therapist may assign specific journal writing prompts for homework. A journal can be used to record symptoms you’ve experienced (e.g., when, how severe, the situation or factors that might have contributed), experiences with side effects of medications, or progress made in other areas supporting recovery such as exercise or healthy eating. Writing in a journal can provide an opportunity to reflect and consider alternative approaches and how changes in your thinking or behavior might contribute to different outcomes.

Getting Started

So if you’re ready to give it a try, where do you start? You can journal at your computer or tablet, in a simple notebook or a fancy bound journal. Some people prefer the act of handwriting and while it offers privacy (can’t be hacked), it also doesn’t have a back-up if something happens to it. If you prefer to write on your phone or a tablet, that are numerous apps available to help or you can simply keep a text file.

Some examples of thought questions or prompts to help with journal writing:

  • What was the biggest challenge I faced today?
  • Did I feel anxious, frustrated or angry today?
  • Did I have a positive interaction with another person today?
  • Did I have a negative interaction with another person today?
  • Is there a decision I’m trying to make today?
  • Was there something or someone what made me laugh today?
  • I am most worried about…..
  • I am grateful for…..
  • I am disappointed about…..

Tips for Journal Writing

  • There is no single right way to journal. Journaling is for you, you don’t have to share with anyone.
  • Try to write daily if possible — 20 minutes a day is often recommended. Write quickly, write what feels right, and don’t stress over grammar or punctuation.
  • Occasionally go back and reread what you’ve written before – can help provide perspective on where you are now.

While journal writing may seem awkward at first, it will likely get easier over time. It can be part of an overall wellness approach along with such things as good nutrition, exercise and adequate sleep. And it’s something you can try on your own almost anywhere with very little cost, very little time commitment, no prescription, no side-effects—and with lots of potential benefits.

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