When you feel like the world around you is falling apart, journaling can help you silence your thoughts, center yourself, and calm your mind in those moments.
It’s a great tool for reducing stress, managing anxiety, coping with depression, and reducing symptoms of PTSD. It gives you a safe space to release pent-up thoughts and emotions.
If you’re new to journaling and aren’t quite sure where to begin, we’ve put together a list of 20 mental health journal prompts to help you on your way to recovery.
Tips for Mental Health Journaling Beginners
To reap the maximum benefits from journaling, here are some important things to keep in mind before you start:
1. Be Honest With Yourself
Journaling is only effective if you’re 100% honest with yourself. Read that again, slowly.
Your journal is your safe space. It is where you can express distressing thoughts and negative emotions without fear of judgment.
You might find it daunting to do so, especially if you’ve never shared your deepest, darkest feelings with anyone. However, if you’re truly determined to heal and improve your mental health and well-being, being honest and transparent is a critical piece of the puzzle.
If it helps, keep reminding yourself that no one else will read your journal—granted, of course, you don’t store it somewhere where it’ll be the subject of prying eyes.
That aside, it is worth noting that if you suffer from anxiety, exploring your deepest emotions will be terrifying. You must persevere and power through the pain. It’ll get easier as you go along and put you on the right path towards recovery.
The more you journal, the more you’ll discover that the biggest breakthroughs you’ll experience will come from your most vulnerable moments. Allow your raw emotions to flow through you. Don’t hold back. Put everything on paper.
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2. Stay Consistent
The next thing you’ll need to do is build a journaling habit. Make it a part of your daily life. Do it consistently. No excuses. On the days when you don’t have the emotional bandwidth for it, commit to spending a few minutes journaling. Even five minutes of expressive writing is better than nothing.
It doesn’t have to be deep either. On those days you don’t feel like it, reflect on the day you just had. What was great about it? If you prefer to journal first thing in the morning, set your intentions for the day. That’s good enough.
The point is not to miss a day. You don’t want to undo all your progress so far.
3. Venture Beyond the Negative Emotions
Sure, you’re in a dark place. Yes, there’s nothing positive about your current circumstances. Understandably, you don’t have anything positive to write about.
While all these may be true, ruminating over the bad experiences you’ve been through and writing about your negative emotions might not be the best way to spend your journaling time.
Don’t get us wrong. You should write about those negative experiences and their impact on your mental health, but don’t let it be the only thing you journal about.
Journaling is meant to help you recognize those negative emotions and make you question why they make you feel the way you do. It is supposed to help you process those feelings and identify ways to release those emotions so you can close those dark chapters and move on with your life in a healthy, productive way.
Venture beyond the negative emotions and try to find any positives you can take away from even the worst experiences.
Strive to always conclude your journaling session on a high note that inspires you to make the changes required to heal, clear your head, and gain the mental clarity you need to live your best life.
5 Journaling Techniques for Mental Health Recovery
If this is the first time you’re journaling, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the different techniques you can use to improve your mental well-being.
There’s no hard and fast rule that requires you to pick and stick to one. The technique you use can vary depending on your mood, the amount of time you have, the depth of the subject matter, and any other factor that would make one technique better suited to you at that moment over another.
Here’s an overview of each.
1. Gratitude Journaling
According to a 2017 study published in the International Journal for the Advancement of Counseling, people who practice gratitude journaling experience higher life satisfaction than those who don’t.
The goal of gratitude journaling is to turn your attention away from the negative thoughts and emotions plaguing your mind, focusing instead on the positive aspects of your life.
This journaling technique requires you to list 3 to 5 things you are grateful for every day. Some days will inevitably be harder than others when thinking of things you’re thankful for.
On those days, something as simple as, “I’m grateful for this great-tasting cup of coffee,” or “I’m thankful for the bed I sleep in,” is good enough.
2. Stream-of-Consciousness Journaling
This journaling technique involves writing your thoughts in real time without censoring yourself. That’s right. Forget about grammar, punctuation, or spelling.
Write down whatever you’re thinking as you think it. Stream-of-consciousness journaling is the perfect outlet for those dark days when you have a lot on your mind and need to dump it out.
If you’re new to this journaling style, it might initially feel a little strange. Your initial entries might be filled with things like, “Okay, where do I start?”, “Yeah, this doesn’t feel weird at all…” “Maybe I should use the bathroom first before I start.”
However, once you get the hang of it and let your thoughts flow, you’ll uncover things about yourself and your mental wellness journey you never knew before. By the end of the session, your heart will be lighter, and you’ll have more mental clarity than when you first began.
3. Unsent Letter Journaling
An unsent letter is a great way to tell someone how you feel without actually sending it to them or worrying about their response.
The unsent letter journaling technique is appropriate for expressing your deepest emotions to someone who hurt you, someone you’re afraid of confronting, or a loved one you miss dearly.
This kind of journal entry allows you to gain closure on a painful chapter in your life so you can start the healing journey and finally move on. Don’t censor yourself when writing unsent letters. Let your pain, sorrow, and heartbreak flow through the words on that paper. It can be as long or short as you want it to be.
4. Mood Journaling
As you go through the day, you’ll experience highs and lows. Your morning may have started in high spirits, only for your mood to dip later. Mood journaling is supposed to help you keep track of your emotions throughout the day.
It’s meant to focus your awareness on the present moment to recognize your thoughts and feelings so you can identify potential triggers that lead you down a dark path.
It is worth noting that mood journaling is only effective if you do it in the moment. Anytime you feel a strong emotion engulf you, stop what you’re doing and take a moment to write about it.
Mention where you are, who you’re with, what you’re doing, and anything relevant to your present emotional state. If you did not bring your journal (which you most likely won’t), use your phone instead. You’re more likely to have it with you.
Mood journaling is a technique Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) psychologists use with their patients to help them identify and recognize emotional triggers. That way, they can work towards addressing them.
5. One-Word Journaling
One-word journaling is the perfect compromise for those busy days when you don’t have the time or energy to write for ages. On those days, reflect on the highs and lows, pick a word that sums it up, and write it down in your journal.
Was your day stressful? Chaotic? Exciting? That’s what you’ll write down.
Remember, for journaling to be effective, you must make it a daily habit. If one word is all you can manage that day, it still counts. Over time, as the habit becomes ingrained in you, your one word will eventually morph into one sentence, paragraph, page, and so forth.
20 Mental Health Journal Prompts
If you’re having a hard time kick-starting your journaling journey, here are 20 mental health journal prompts to help point you in the right direction.
Daily Journal Prompts to Help You Warm Up
- Describe yourself in three words. Why do you identify with those specific words?
- What does your perfect day look like? What makes it perfect?
- Where or from whom do you draw inspiration, and why?
- What is your idea of self-care and why?
- What one thing can you do today as an expression of self-love?
- Name the first thing/person that comes to mind when you think of a safe space. What about it/them makes you feel safe?
- List five things no one knows about you.
- What are you grateful for?
- What is the hardest thing you’re facing in your life at this very moment?
- If there was one thing you could change in your life that would improve it dramatically, what would it be?
Journal Prompts to Help You Dive Deeper
- What coping mechanism do you frequently use to deal with painful or traumatic experiences? Would you consider it helpful or detrimental to your well-being? Why?
- Describe the three most painful events that have occurred in your life. How are you dealing with them?
- Close your eyes, take five deep breaths, and focus on your thoughts. What are you feeling at this precise moment?
- Do you suppress your emotions? If so, why? If not, how do you let them out?
- If you were to write a letter to your younger self, what advice would you give?
- What obstacles are standing in the way of becoming the best possible version of yourself?
- Write an unsent letter to the person who hurt you. What do you want them to know?
- Write an unsent letter of forgiveness to the person who hurt you. What are you forgiving them for?
- Write a letter to yourself. In what ways have you let yourself down?
- Write a letter of forgiveness to yourself. What mistakes have you made that you are now letting go of?
There you have it: 20 journaling prompts to help you take charge of your emotional well-being and take back your power. Remember, journaling can only work if you are 100% honest with yourself.
Do it consistently and venture beyond the negative emotions and feelings plaguing your psyche and daily life. Take charge of your roiling emotions and nurture your path to recovery.
In the meantime, have you tried healing meditation? Learn how it can help you improve your physical and emotional well-being.