There’s something so inexplicably satisfying about cracking open a brand-new journal. It’s a blank canvas on which you can record your thoughts, your worries, your dreams, and so much more. But beyond simply being a place to chronicle the events of your life and everything you feel about those goings-on, journaling is a great way to nourish your mental health. I may be going out on a limb here, but I’d venture to say that you’d be hard-pressed to find a mental-health professional who wouldn’t recommend journaling as a tool for general healing, coping with depression, and reducing anxiety.
Still, journaling can seem like a daunting task—especially if you’re not in the habit of writing about your feelings regularly. The good news? According to New York–based holistic psychotherapist Alison Stone, LCSW, there’s no such thing as a right or a wrong way to journal—and there’s not a specific amount you have to do it, either.
“For some people, it might be daily, while for others it might be weekly,” Stone says. “Experiment with not only what gives you the most benefit, but what is realistic for you to commit to on a regular basis.”
“Journaling is great for enhancing self-awareness through helping us detect and track patterns of behavior, thoughts, and feelings.” —Alison Stone, LCSW
In other words, if you want to let your thoughts flow freely every day for an hour, great. If it feels more natural to you to express yourself with a combination of words and pictures, bullet-journal-style, once a week, that’s great, too. Maybe you’re all about going out and buying a gorgeous journal that you feel excited to open all the time. Or maybe the thought of writing your feelings by hand is exhausting to you, and you’d prefer to dump them all in a Google Doc. Great, all-around, because, as is the case with so many things in life, the best thing you can do is listen to your own specific wants and needs to do what is authentically best for you.
And, no matter how or how often you choose to journal, there’s no question that it’s great for mental health. Below are a few of the heavy-hitting reasons why.
1. Journaling enhances self-awareness
Sometimes, it can be hard to pinpoint why we do, think, or feel certain ways about certain things. When you start journaling regularly, all of these things become a lot clearer. “Journaling is great for enhancing self-awareness through helping us detect and track patterns of behavior, thoughts, and feelings,” Stone explains.
For example, say you’re a single person (who doesn’t want to be single) whose anxiety spikes at night when you just happen to be scrolling mindlessly through Instagram, double-tapping photos of happy couples. In this case, a regular journaling habit may help you identify a pattern and lead you to change your behavior around Instagram.
2. Journaling can help alleviate stress
By simply jotting things down on paper, whether it’s feelings of anxiety and stress around a specific situation or just getting out the events of the day, journaling can help you get your thoughts and feelings out of your head. This simple act can make it easier to stop obsessing. “Doing this can help get rid of stress, clarify goals, and reduce symptoms of anxiety,” Stone says.
3. Journaling helps cultivate gratitude
Research has shown that gratitude can do quite a bit for our brains, happiness, and overall mental health. And according to Stone, journaling regularly is an effective means for identifying the things you’re grateful for. “This is an excellent benefit to journaling, because gratitude is a crucial part of overall mental health.”
If gratitude doesn’t flow out of you naturally during your day-to-day journaling habit, no big deal. Hey, a journal full of complaints and stressors is still helpful for identifying the things in your life that aren’t serving you—and that’s certainly productive. Still, try setting aside a few minutes of your journaling time to list out the things you’re grateful for.
Need a few prompts to get started on your healing journaling journey? Here are four that just may do wonders for your mental health.
If you’re anxious…
Anxiety is very, very prevalent in the United States. In fact, the condition impacts a whopping 40 million adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. While there are a number of effective ways to treat your anxiety, journaling is a great one to start with. In this case, here are two journaling prompts Stone suggests trying:
“When I’m feeling acutely anxious, three strategies I know work for me are…”
“One example of how I successfully navigated my anxiety in a stressful situation in the past is…”
If you’re struggling with depression…
When you’re in the throes of depression, journaling just may be the last activity you’re jonesing to see out. Sure, zonking out with Netflix buzzing in the background or sleeping the day away may sound more appealing. But if you do have it in you to crack open your journal, doing so can help quite a bit. Here are the two prompts Stone suggests starting with:
“Even though I feel down, two to three things I feel thankful for are…”
“One reasonable goal I have for myself this week is…”
So there you have it: Journaling can be a supplemental tool to help you along on your mental-health journey—so get started today. But if you haven’t already, do first seek the help of a professional to devise a personalized plan to treat your condition.