Discover 8 Journaling Techniques for Better Mental Health
Learn new ways to journal so you can reduce stress and increase self-awareness.
Posted January 23, 2020 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
Ever wondered how you should journal? Learn eight ways that you can use journaling to reduce stress, increase self-reflection, and create a better sense of wellbeing.
One of the great things about journaling is there is no "wrong" way to do it. You can even have fun journaling. Journaling is all about dumping that stuff floating around in your head and then being able to walk away from it. By externalizing your thoughts and feelings through journaling, you tend to have less to "carry around" psychologically. Your brain will thank you. Journaling also gives you the unique ability to look back and see how much you have grown, both emotionally and spiritually.
Keep in mind that all the written forms of journaling can be done through audio recording as well.
See my article on how to get started on journaling.
In art journaling, the journal is more focused on visual design than words. You can even turn your words into artistic representations. As I referenced in my article on how to get started on journaling (link above), art therapy students and counseling students created journals that combined art with words. Both groups found visual journaling to be helpful in reducing stress.
Consider using mixed media in your journaling — using different forms of art, such as pencil, paint, and paper. You don't need to spend any money to create a visual journal. One client of mine uses photos from old magazines to create her visual journals.
When you are doing gratitude journaling, you can write down things in your life that you are thankful for, or things that make you happy or content. Sometimes people go with a once-daily "write five things that I am thankful for," and others write in the morning and in the evening. Whatever way you choose to do it is totally okay. The purpose is not to minimize the challenges you are going through, but to help your brain refocus for a little while.
When we are under stress, we tend to get out of touch with our intuition. Our intuitions are right nearly 100 percent of the time. You may find yourself "stuck" or feeling off-kilter when you don't listen to your intuition. You may have been in an unhealthy relationship with gaslighting where you were told you were crazy, resulting in you not trusting your intuition.
Now is the time to reconnect with that gut feeling. In intuition journaling, you write down a question you would like answered. Then you respond as if your intuition is answering. For example, you would write, "Is this relationship worth saving?" and by channeling your intuition you may get the response, "Life is short, it is time to move on."
Create your journaling through sound. You may be a trained musician, self-taught, or have never created your own music. Musical journaling can be helpful to you, no matter what your level of expertise. Tell your story through music. Drums, for example, express happiness, sadness, or anger very well. And you don't necessarily need training or need to spend money on them. You can turn anything into a drum.
Record the music you make so you can look back and reflect on how you felt at that time in your life. And who knows, you may end up creating a profound piece of music and/or a hit song. Many of the best songs are autobiographical in nature.
Stream-of-consciousness journaling is particularly helpful if you are critical of yourself or if you have perfectionistic tendencies. In this style of journaling, you start writing and just keep going. You write free of judgment. Even if your writing turns into a scrawl, keep going until you are ready to stop. Remind yourself that whatever you write is fine, no matter how grammatically incorrect, "out there," or indecipherable you think it is.
A larger journal is handy for this type of journaling, as stream-of-consciousness journaling can take up a whole page very quickly. Turning a page can temporarily get you out of the stream-of-consciousness flow, so the less turned pages, the better.
Write about the people that inspire you. They could be people that you know personally, or people that you've never met but have helped you become a better person. This is a little different from "unsent letter" journaling (below), as it tends to be more future-oriented than looking back at the past. In other words, you are writing to the people that are helping you become who you want to be. These are people that lift you higher.
Write about what inspired you, how you have taken those principles into your own life. This type of journaling gets you in touch with your "higher self" and creates goals for better living.
Unsent Letter Journaling
We all have things we would like to say to someone but we aren't able to for various reasons. In "unsent letter" journaling, you write down what you would like to tell the person. It can be whatever you want since you aren't sending it anyway. You can tell someone how much you appreciate them, how angry they made you, or how you want or don't want to forgive them. Writing a letter to someone, even if you don't send it, can be a cathartic experience. It's also something to consider sharing with your therapist.
In this style of journaling, you note what has gone well during your day. This could be done through bullet points or paragraphs. We tend to focus on what doesn't go well, so changing your focus can result in feeling less burdened. When you realize how much things have worked in your favor during the day, those not-so-great things tend to pale in comparison.
How is this different than gratitude journaling? Gratitude journaling tends to focus on things that already exist, while what-is-going-well journaling tends to focus on daily events.
You can also create a variety of journaling styles. Nothing says you have to stick with just one. In fact, changing up how you journal can give you new insights into yourself, and that is exactly what journaling is all about.
Deaver, S. P., & McAuliffe, G. (2009). Reflective visual journaling during art therapy and counselling internships: A qualitative study. Reflective Practice, 10(5), 615-632.