Why You Should Be Journaling

By Joseph Lowe

When you hear the word “journaling”, what first comes to mind? For the longest time, The Diary of A Young Girl, the journal depicting two years of Anne Frank’s life hiding from the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, always came to my mind. The book exemplified the sentiment of many Jewish individuals in that era – terror, uncertainty, hope. Due to its cultural significance, Anne’s written word would go on to be published and translated into 75 languages, and her journal has influenced generations of young readers.


“Hence this diary. To enhance in my mind’s eye, the picture of the friend for whom I have waited so long, I don’t want to set down a series of bald facts in a diary like most people do, but I want this diary to itself to be my friend…” (Frank, 3). 


With Anne’s poetic prose top of mind, beginning a journaling practice might feel intimidating. I certainly felt it. Anne’s word choice is impactful. My words are often sloppily written, haphazardly selected and oftentimes I have a difficult time understanding my initial point when reading it over again myself. This proved to be my stopping point.


As writers, we’ve all endured a stopping point. The “New year, new me” mantra starts up again. Or perhaps an age milestone occurs, and we decide this is the era I will finally begin writing in that dust-covered journal. But suddenly that stopping point rears its ugly head and our dedication to consistent writing is replaced with something else entirely. Notable stopping points I’ve heard include limited writing experience, concerns about not knowing what to write, and, my favorite, a lack of time. 


It’s been well documented that journaling boasts a number of benefits for folks, including lowering anxiety levels, identifying depression symptoms, and aiding the effects of trauma. It’s no secret that journaling can be a beneficial activity for your mental health. The real secret is figuring out a way to continue journaling once the act of writing begins to feel less ideal and more challenging.


In this article, we’ll discuss a few ways to journal, figure out good starting points when it’s the last thing you’d like to do and review journaling prompts that might make this practice simpler for you hesitant journalers out there. 


Reasons to Start Journaling


Journaling is the only universal therapy assignment I give out to clients. Not only is it an inexpensive intervention option for any individual who walks into my office, but it can be completed via paper and pen, on your laptop or phone application, or even by tapping audio software or a voice recorder. It’s one of those therapy assignments that’s pretty difficult to make a valid excuse not to complete. Journaling allows clients to gain autonomy of their own mental health journey through a healthy practice. Journalers take their mental health into their own hands, for some quite literally. Without even taking therapeutic benefits into account, there are a plethora of individual mental health benefits garnered from journaling. 


Recognize reasons to feel grateful


With everything we experience in a day, from waking up in the morning, taking care of the kiddos, grabbing coffee and hopefully food, and working with colleagues to engaging in self-care activities, engaging in energy-draining activities, managing relationships and constant low-level of stress, it can be tough to look back at the day with a sunny disposition. Journaling can fix that.


Keeping a gratitude journal, a journal in which you write one or more positive notes from your day, allows you to frame your day and avoids your experiences framing it for you. This afternoon, I was cut off in traffic by a semi-truck driving down 440. In full transparency, despite my best efforts to tap my inner therapist, I was furious and ready to tap my inner Dominic Toretto (see Fast and Furious Wiki page). Just this morning, I received a loving message of encouragement from my mother that was unexpected and very much needed. Which one do you think I’m going to write about in my journal this evening? 


Increase mindfulness and self-awareness


Practicing mindfulness starts with being fully present and aware of yourself in the current environment. Being mindful involves a sense of self-awareness of your emotions, physical sensations and thoughts in real time. This practice encourages you to observe your thoughts and emotions without judgment of the natural urges to pivot to a new thought or sensation.


Practicing mindfulness without a journal is often done through some form of meditation. While highly recommended, meditation is not always manageable for some due to its emphasis on quietness, solitude and full concentration – right parents? Furthermore, for my neurodivergent readers, staying still or concentrating for lengthy periods can be a trying experience all together. Writing (or typing or recording) offers an activity that requires multiple focus points – from using the medium of choice to actively participating in a practice – that might allow one to feel more engaged in being present. Writing down moment-to-moment thoughts in a journal as a daily or weekly practice is an excellent way to gain a sense of awareness and pay more attention to the day-to-day sensations we often experience but quickly lose track of.


Identify emotional triggers and patterns


Nothing quite stings like your therapist identifying a pattern of yours that you might not be privy to. “Do I really catastrophize that much? Nahh.” “Black and white thinking? Nah, that’s not me.” While it ultimately might be beneficial to identify negative thought patterns with your therapist, it’s not always easy to be told something noteworthy about yourself that you’re not so fond of. You guessed it, journaling can fix that.


Writing down your thoughts or emotions in real time gives you the presence of mind to identify consistent thoughts, ideas or behaviors that may go unnoticed. This can be a net positive and net negative. Perhaps as you write in your journal each day, you begin to track the word “should” very often in your journal. This might shed some light on your inability to appreciate your efforts on tasks and beliefs that your “should” be accomplishing more. On the other hand, perhaps you find yourself writing about how you appreciate your partner making you tea each morning. You recognize your gratitude and appreciation of your significant other. These two occurrences might go unnoticed in your day-to-day activities but when written down in a journal allows enough space for you to identify a stressor or an energizer. 


Gain more from your therapeutic experience


I wouldn’t be a therapist if I didn’t throw in a few benefits around therapy. Narrative therapy is an intervention focused on the client’s ability to separate themselves from their concerns in a top-down approach. You can write your own story and deconstruct negative narratives around stressors within your life. One benefit of journaling is that it serves as a stepping stone to narrative therapy. Building a steady practice of writing down the daily narratives we process each day, allows you and your therapist to dive deeper into harmful thought processes and build better alternatives. 


Journal writing also provides food for thought in therapy sessions. It’s not uncommon to feel stuck in therapy because we may be sharing similar concerns session after session. Taking a moment to read your journal or – if you feel safe doing so – bringing your journal to a counseling session might allow you and your therapist to find alternative talking points and concerns that both parties might’ve been unaware of in the first place. 


Starting Your Journal


Don’t make it high stakes


Be patient with yourself. There is a reason why only around eight percent of the population keeps a journal according to a survey by Habitbetter. Consistency is difficult and feeling overwhelmed when trying a new practice is common. In addition, journaling can evoke strong emotions or make thoughts feel more “real” when they are written down. 


If you miss a few days because you’re traveling or maybe you’re enduring emotions that are hard to process, take a break. If you’re tired after a long day at work or hanging out with the kids, take a break. It only takes one entry to practice journaling. It is not a race and is meant to be a beneficial activity to gain clearer insight about oneself. Celebrate the small wins when you do journal, and allow yourself the benefit of doubt when you aren’t able to accomplish the task.


Experiment with journaling methods


Don’t be afraid to try different journaling techniques. Some folks use journaling as a way to document their entire day. Some folks use the one-sentence method and write a singular sentence that summarizes their day. Some folks take one photo each day and write a caption to explain their thoughts about the photo or their day. There is no singular way to journal. 


Explore different journaling channels. Try a journal application on your phone. Start writing a journal on your laptop’s word processor. Record your voice every few days when something you deem relevant is worth journaling. If you need to start over again, try a new method that sticks until you find the best channel for you and your unique needs. Everyone is different, and whatever works well for you is the perfect way to journal.


Build a journaling cadence


Set an alarm. Perhaps you’d like to journal daily or weekly or monthly. Journal in the morning, journal midday or journal at nighttime. Your number of journal entries is a personal choice often depending on lifestyle. Though a key component of journaling is building a sense of accountability, which often can be something as simple as setting an alarm for yourself to encourage you to engage in journaling. Or perhaps, it could be beneficial to identify a friend, partner or therapist as your accountability partner to ensure you’re sticking to your new practice.


Make it fun


Make journaling an engaging practice for yourself. Journaling isn’t supposed to be a chore or feel like we’re writing on deadline for a publisher. It’s supposed to be rewarding. If that means you’d like to illustrate your entry rather than write anything, then go for it. If you’re into videography and you’d prefer to engage in journaling via audio and video, then go right on ahead. Perhaps you’d like to involve your friends in your journaling journey with photos, videos, quotes or even souvenirs. Do it up. 


The goal here is for you to enjoy a practice that benefits your mental health, allows you to gain clarity on often forgotten aspects of life and enjoy a new hobby. Below, I’ve included a few journaling prompts that might be a good starting point for your journaling journey. Happy journaling! 


Daily Observations:

  • What are three things I am grateful for today and why?
  • What challenges did I face today? How did I handle it?
  • What are a few tasks I accomplished today? 

Self Awareness:

  • How do I feel presently, and what might have contributed to these feelings?
  • Am I feeling any physical sensation or emotions right now? Why or why not? 
  • Is there an emotion I’ve been feeling more often lately? 

Personal Growth:

  • What is a hobby I’d like to pursue? How can I start pursuing it? 


  • If I could’ve lived my day differently today, how would I live it and why? 


  • What have I done today for someone else? 


  • Where do I see myself next year?