9 Minutes

Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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As teenagers, we all used to have a diary to pour our hearts out. It was like a sacred place to confess your fears and mention your struggles without repercussions or judgment. And admit it or not, it felt great to get rid of the burden of feelings and thoughts from your head.

While you have dropped the habit of writing a diary in adulthood, its concept and the benefits associated with it still remain valid. Only now, the practice is called journaling, and many adults are using it to sort their feelings and thoughts or to understand them more clearly. While journaling has many benefits, it can be particularly beneficial for people struggling with mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, or stress.

Finding a healthy way of expression is one of the best ways to manage an overwhelming emotion. For this reason, a journal can serve as an effective tool for managing your mental health. It may help:

  • Cope with depression
  • Reduce high-stress levels
  • Manage anxiety

Journaling thoughts daily can give you high focus and clarity and puts you in a better position to solve problems and disagreements in relationships. Once you start journaling for mental health regularly, you may start noticing a reduction in stress as your mind learns to process your emotions more healthily. Moreover, this habit also improves your mental health by:

  • Enabling you to detach from your past and let go of old memories
  • Helping you participate in a positive self-dialogue with yourself
  • Producing congruence and clarity
  • Minimising mental clutter to help your mind focus better
  • Creating a space to recover bit by bit every day
  • Providing you with insight into your behaviour and thought patterns

Experts highly recommend starting a journal to build resilience, promote mental wellness and increase gratitude. However, remember that journaling is only one of the many aspects of a healthy lifestyle with better mental health management. To get the most benefit out of it, incorporate the following habits into your daily life:

  • Get plenty of sleep every night
  • Relax your mind through mindful meditation every day
  • Steer clear from drugs and alcohol
  • Exercise regularly
  • Adopt healthy and clean eating habits

Many people who wish to consider journaling a therapeutic solution to their mental illness are unsure where to begin. If you are among these individuals, consider the following tips for journaling to help you get started:

Decide the type of journal

To begin with, consider the type of journal you wish to start writing. It can either be a paper journal where you write by hand or a digital one. Writing by hand typically helps you with thought processing in a better way and lets you be more creative with your daily entries with art or doodles. Digital journaling, on the other hand, is convenient for people who are always on the go as it can be quickly done on a laptop, tablet, or even a smartphone. Consider your daily circumstances carefully and choose whatever is more convenient.

Write whenever you can or need to

While some people like journaling daily, others may struggle to make time for it. Regardless of your category, journaling every day significantly helps make it a habit. Try to practice it every day until it starts coming more naturally. Choose a convenient time when you are free to sit down in a peaceful setting and transfer whatever is on your mind to your diary. If possible, schedule your journaling time into your daily timetable, like a necessary appointment with yourself.

For example, some people prefer writing their journal every morning as soon as they wake up, while others do it during their lunch hour or close to bedtime. If your work involves a daily commute, you may consider using this time to journal.

If you cannot journal every day, consider putting it in place right in front of your eyes to remind yourself that it exists.

Do not worry too much about grammar or spelling

Keep in mind that your journal is only for you to read, so it does not matter if you are spelling the words correctly or using proper sentences. Allow your thoughts to flow freely without caring much about the quality of the content. If your writing mistakes are bothering you too much, consider going back to correct them at some other time.

Format more creatively

Even if you hate writing or cannot understand what to write, it is still possible to get the most out of journaling for mental health. Remember that you have to follow no set pattern of journaling. Consider experimenting with different writing styles until you land on the one that works the best for you. Following are some ways you may use to express yourself.

  • Make lists
  • Write letters to others
  • Write a song or poem
  • Add images to express your emotions or feelings
  • Write down a story with you as the main character
  • Make a bullet journal

Write with no fears or judgements

Grant yourself permission to write down whatever you are feeling without judging or policing your thoughts. Avoid attaching negative emotions, such as embarrassment or guilt, to whatever you write. Remind yourself that you have every right to feel whatever you are feeling, and your journaling habit is there to help you process them in a healthy way. Do not judge yourself for taking this step toward resolving your inner conflicts.

For instance, if you feel guilty or angry over something that happened at work, don’t judge yourself for feeling upset over it as it is a normal reaction. Praise yourself for processing these thoughts and expressing them healthily instead of letting them affect your mental health.

While you continue to fill in your journal with your daily experiences and stories, it is essential to track how it impacts your mental health.

Tracking progress towards positive habits and goals

Try to use your journaling habit to set personal goals and healthy behaviours you wish to practice and strive towards achieving them. Record everything you do to move closer to these goals and monitor your progress. Additionally, it is a good idea to write down these good behaviours and habits whenever you engage in them. Dedicate a journal page to monitor your progress on a single goal. Make a stepwise action plan, note it down, and keep checking off each step as you achieve it.

Keep a log of your mental health symptoms

If you are journaling for depression or any other mental health issue, keeping track of your symptoms can be a great way to monitor your progress. Note down all symptoms you experience in the corner of your daily journal entry and, if possible, rate their severity using a numerical scale. Keep comparing your current symptoms with your older entries to know where you are going with your mental health issue and how well you respond to treatment. For example, you may consider the following example of how to log your daily symptoms in a journal: 

  • I feel anxious (3/5)
  • I feel depressed (2/5)

People who are on medication can keep track of when they take it and notice if it has any effect on their symptoms.

Practice positive journaling

People with mental illness often experience a mixture of positive and negative beliefs about themselves. Having too many negative beliefs can quickly add to their anxiety and depression, even if they are not valid. Hence, whenever you experience a negative thought about yourself, note it down in a journal and provide evidence to believe or disbelieve it. Practising this tip every day can help individuals view themselves in a positive light.

For example, if you suddenly feel like you are stupid, write it down in your journal, followed by some examples that negate it. You may mention your academic qualifications, brilliant career, or the topics you know well. Using these examples, you can negate the initial thought and convince yourself that you are brilliant.

Weigh your decisions with a pros and cons list

Taking a big decision is highly challenging, and it can easily make you feel overwhelmed if you are already dealing with a mental health issue. Fortunately, your journaling habit can ease decision-making and help you figure out what to do with a clearer mind. For this purpose, choose a blank journal page and draw a line in the centre. Now select a pending decision and start writing its pros on one side of the page and its cons on the other. Once you are finished, go through the list and choose the option that suits you the most.

For example, suppose you are considering getting a pet for emotional support. Its pros may include:

  • Never feeling alone
  • Having comfort
  • Feeling happy whenever you see your furry companion
  • At the same time, the cons may include
  • Have to go through paperwork
  • Need to clean up after the pet

In most cases, making a single list is enough; however, don’t hesitate to increase the number if you have multiple options.



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