Whether you’re just getting started with journaling for depression, or need fresh journal prompts for mental health to keep you inspired, you’ve come to the right place.
As a full-time blogger who suffers from anxiety and the occasional panic attack, I appreciate the importance of journaling as a therapeutic approach to depression. Putting pen to paper provides an uncensored outlet for people to write down their thoughts and feelings freely, allowing them to gain control over their emotions and perspective about their problems, and also formulate more appropriate ways to respond to the world. Journaling helps identify different triggers and trends over time, allowing us to see when we’re at our best – and when we’re at our worst.
I was first introduced to the concept of journaling by my tenth grade English teacher (Mr. S), who was nothing short of amazing. He was equal parts cool and quirky, and instilled a deep passion for literature and writing in me, and while his class syllabus was certainly intense, Mr. S had a way of making me want to do the work. He introduced me to the classics, like The Catcher in the Rye, Tom Sawyer, and To Kill a Mockingbird, and when we weren’t debating symbolism, analogies, and metaphors, he required each of us to keep a journal.
The idea was simple: we were required to write about whatever was on our minds for 10 uninterrupted minutes each day.
We could write about anything – one of the books we were reading in class, a school project we were involved with, an argument we had with one of our friends, an upcoming family vacation – and we were encouraged to forget about proper grammar and spelling, and just write from the heart.
I initially thought this was a bit silly, but as the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months, I found myself looking forward to those 10 minutes where I could get my feelings out on paper. It helped to clear my head, provided insight into my problems, and helped me put things into perspective.
I kept up with my journal over the summer and on and off for the rest of high school, and while the idea fizzled as I got older and pursued a career in writing, I’ve noticed that journaling has started to pick up steam over the last couple of years. And there are so many different types of journals to choose from!
You can keep a depression and anxiety journal, therapy journal, self care journal, mental health journal…the list goes on and on.
Of course, buying a journal is only half the battle. In order to fully reap the benefits of journaling for depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, you must make the commitment to keep at it, and find meaningful journal prompts to keep you motivated and engaged.
We’ve shared 33 journal prompts for mental health below, but before we get to those, let’s take a closer look at how journal writing can be used as a self-care tool.
What are the benefits of journaling?
While journaling isn’t a ‘cure’ for depression and other mental health issues, the benefits of writing your thoughts and worries out on paper cannot be ignored. Regular journaling:
Provides an outlet. Journaling for depression and other mental health issues provides a way to address all of your feelings, and if you choose to keep your journal private, you don’t have to worry about censoring any of your thoughts. This can feel a little weird at first, but it can be really helpful to get everything off your chest without worrying about offending or upsetting someone else.
Promotes a sense of calm. Writing our thoughts out on paper forces us to come to terms with the things we’re feeling, and while this can initially cause us to feel anxious, stressed, sad, or ashamed, working through our thoughts typically brings us back to a state of calm.
Provides solutions. There are tons of journal prompts for mental health (see below!) that are designed to help us think outside our comfort zone, and as we write, we inevitably start to come up with solutions to our problems.
Helps us gain perspective. Journaling offers a deeper glimpse into our minds. It helps us understand why we react to things the way we do, and the more honest we are in our writing, the more perspective we gain.
Keeps us accountable. When you’re working towards a specific goal (weight loss) or something a little broader (happiness), journaling for depression and mental health has the added benefit of keeping you accountable. Tracking your habits, working through the obstacles you encounter, and formulating plans to reach your goals will have a positive impact on your success.
Helps identify triggers and patterns. Keeping a written log of your moods and feelings can help you identify certain trends over time. You may notice your mood is influenced by your menstrual cycle, that interactions with certain individuals cause your anxiety to increase, and that you are better able to cope with your feelings after a good night of sleep. The trick is to write it all down and reflect back on your journal entries periodically to see what insights you can gain.
How to start a journal
Journaling shouldn’t feel overwhelming, and my biggest advice is to start small and keep at it. Remember that your journal is not meant to be perfect. It’s a personal collection of your thoughts and feelings, and shouldn’t be shared with others (unless you want to), so there is no right or wrong way to get started. All you need to do it write. I’m serious! Here are 7 tips to help you get started with journaling for depression and mental illness.
Choose the kind of journal you want to keep. I realize this sounds really easy, but with so many types of journals to choose from (see below for some of our favorites), it really can be overwhelming. My suggestion is to choose a plain notebook to begin – you can always move to a guided journal like the ones outlined a bit later in this post once you have an idea of the direction you’d like to take through your writing. Opt for a notebook with a fun or inspirational cover if you can (I love this journal as the quote on the front makes me want to be the best in everything I do!), and don’t be afraid to invest in colored pens to decorate the pages and help boost your mood while you’re writing.
Write your first entry. Staring at a blank page can be extremely intimidating. Trust me, I know! There are countless times I sit at this computer not knowing what to write about, or how to get started, and when it comes to journaling for mental health, it can be that much harder. The trick is to just DO IT. Write down the first things that come to your mind, or check out our list of journal prompts for mental health below for some ideas to get you started.
Set a timer. A good way to start journaling is giving yourself a time limit of 5 or 10 minutes to get your thoughts down on paper. If you leave it open-ended it might start to seem daunting or you may start to get bored. When you have a set time, you’re more likely to focus, and you’ll get more out of the time you spend writing.
Schedule it. If you have a busy calendar, or struggle to find the motivation to do the things you should be doing for your mental health, I urge you to schedule time for journaling into your daily routine. Again, you don’t need to devote HEAPS of time to this. Five to 10 minutes is all you need to get your thoughts onto paper. Figure out when you’re more likely to have the time to write – and when you benefit most from it – and then make it a habit.
Date your entries. Dating your journal entries allows you to look back and reflect over what’s been happening in your life and how you’ve felt at different times, and can provide a lot of useful information to you. You may start to see patterns and trends to help you anticipate your feelings and emotions, and it’s incredibly helpful to track progress towards goals over time.
Be Truthful. Your journal is yours and yours alone. Allow yourself to write down the truth about what’s going on in your life and how you’re feeling about it. Don’t talk yourself out of accepting what you’re really feeling. Take your time, go slow and let the truth flow out. The more open and honest you are, the more you will get out of your journaling journey.
Re-read Your Entries. There’s something important in every journal entry you write, even if you don’t see/know it when you’re writing it. Always keep your journal entries and re-read them. They’ll offer lots of insight at a time you need it most.
7 of our favorite guided journals
If free writing isn’t your thing, or you’re looking for a way to use your writing towards achieving a certain goal (living a life with gratitude, being happier, being more productive, etc.), here are 7 guided journals you may consider.
The Five Minute Journal. If you’re just starting out with journaling and would rather have a guide than just jotting down all your thoughts on paper, the Five Minute Journal may be a great option for you. This journal helps you focus your attention on the good in your life, cultivating gratitude and improving your mental well-being. It provides you with a simple structure that only takes five minutes to fill out, combining the proven elements of positive psychology so you can reflect and evaluate as you start and end your day.
The Bullet Journal. If you have a thing for lists, you will LOVE The Bullet Journal. It’s a way to ‘track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future’, and it has really taken off in recent years. It allows you to record important tidbits of information throughout the day and keep track of important tasks and upcoming events, and through the use of different signifiers, you can create daily, weekly, and monthly logs to keep your life organized and in synch. It’s pretty impressive.
52 Lists for Happiness. Another favorite for list lovers, 52 Lists for Happiness contains (you guessed it!) 52 writing prompts that guide you through creating a weekly list of positivity, which you can add to daily. Perfect for those who are trying to practice mindfulness and gratitude, this guided journal is a fabulous self-discovery tool.
Q&A a Day: 5-Year Journal. If your main goal with journaling is simply to write, but you have trouble coming up with meaningful things to write about each day, the Q&A a Day: 5-Year Journal may be the thing for you. Each day comes with a new question – some serious, some silly – and at the end of the 5 years you can start again and see how your thoughts and feelings have changed over time.
How to Be Happy (Or at Least Less Sad). This isn’t a journal, per se, but I highly recommend it. It’s a self-help workbook of sorts, with mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy principals weaved throughout. The book will provide you with writing prompts that will help you see the positives and negatives in your life, and help put a different spin on the things that get you down. Find out more HERE.
The Happy Book. As this title suggests, this guided journal is all about happiness. The idea is to focus on the good things in your life, giving you something tangible to reflect on when you feel down and need a reminder of all the things that bring you joy.
Start Where You Are. This journal is all about self-reflection, and through different writing prompts, activities, and inspirational quotes, you will begin to see the good in yourself, making it the perfect guided journal for those struggling with self-confidence.
33 daily journal prompts for mental health
- Describe your perfect day – who would you spend it with and what would you do?
- What quote(s) inspires you on difficult days?
- Write down the things that trigger feelings of depression in you, and identify 1-3 strategies you can use to combat each of them.
- Write a letter to your teenage self telling him/her all the things you wish he/she knew.
- Discuss one thing that happened today that made you happy.
- What words do you wish someone would say to you when you’re having a tough time?
- What does self-care mean to you, and how can you incorporate this into your daily routine?
- Discuss 5 things you wish others knew about you.
- Describe a time you made a poor choice. What did you learn from the situation, and if you could have a do-over, what would you change about the situation?
- Identify one thing you are looking forward this week, and explain why it makes you feel excited.
- What songs help lift your spirits when you’re feeling down?
- What inspires you?
- Create a bucket list of things you’d like to accomplish or experience in the next 12 months.
- If you could change ONE thing about yourself, what would you change and why?
- Discuss 3 things you did RIGHT today.
- Write a list of 10 things you are thankful for.
- If you could have an hour with someone (living or dead) from your past, who would you choose and what would you ask him or her?
- 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?
- How do you want to feel tomorrow, and what 3 things can you do today to ensure you feel that way?
- What’s the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?
- What are your best character traits?
- Write down the things that trigger feelings of anxiety in you, and identify 1-3 strategies you can use to combat each of them.
- Pick ONE positive word you’d like to focus on this week and brainstorm a list of things you can do to experience this feeling each day.
- Describe a situation in which you helped someone else. What did you do? How did it make them feel? How did it make you feel?
- Describe a difficult situation you’ve encountered. How did you cope with it and what did you learn from the experience?
- What is your 5-year plan? Map out all of the things you need to do to reach your goals.
- Describe your favorite time of year. What do you love about it, who do you spend it with, and what activities do you enjoy during that time?
- What makes you feel fulfilled?
- Make a list of things that are holding you back from your wants, needs, goals, and desires. Be brutally honest with yourself, and brainstorm ways to overcome these obstacles.
- What are your best qualities?
- Identify 3 things in your life that you SHOULD be grateful for, but aren’t. What emotions do these things evoke in you, and why aren’t you grateful for them?
- Write a letter to someone who has done you wrong. Discuss what they did and how it made you feel, and then forgive them and let it go.
- What is the biggest life lesson you’ve learned to date? Describe how the lesson was learned, and how it has impacted your life.
Whether you struggle with mental health issues, or just need some self-care ideas to help you be the best form of yourself possible, journaling provides an uncensored outlet for you to write down your thoughts and feelings freely, allowing you to gain clarity and control over your emotions and formulate more appropriate ways to respond to the world.
I hope these daily journal prompts for mental health along with our tips for getting started with journaling for depression and other forms of mental illness prove useful to you.
Remember to be consistent and uncensored, and to keep at it!
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