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How to Start Journaling for Better Mental Health

Journaling can change how you look at life.

 Aaron Burden/Unsplash
Journaling can be therapeutic for your mind and body.
Source: Aaron Burden/Unsplash

You may have been "assigned" journaling as part of therapy, or thought about journaling on your own. But where do you start? Start with the basics.

First, journaling is just a way to record your thoughts and feelings. Second, deciding to journal is a great way to improve your wellbeing. Journaling isn't just beneficial to your mind; it also helps your physical health too. In a study of patients with either asthma or rheumatoid arthritis (RA), writing about stressful life events for just 20 minutes a day led to significant improvements in health in just four months.

Several studies (three of which are in this post) have shown journaling can cause a significant improvement in mental and physical health. In my counseling practice, I have seen many clients improve their well-being through keeping a journal. Clients have experienced a reduction in anxiety, depression, and even the frustration tied to ADHD symptoms by keeping a journal. Having time to reflect can do wonders for your psyche. In my next post, I will talk about different ways you can do journaling. Below are some of the basics of journaling.

Create a Visual Journal

If you don't like to write, a journal can take on different forms. A journal isn't necessarily just words—you can also create sketches and even paint in a journal. Visual journals have been found to increase the ability to reflect on one's actions, which can make changes in behavior.

Let Go of Rules

Your journal can be whatever you want it to be. There is also no "right" amount of time to journal. While there is evidence that the more you journal, the better you will feel, the fact that you are journaling at all is significant. If you just remember to journal once a week, you can still reap the benefits.

Record or Dictate Instead of Write

If you prefer to talk out loud about your ideas as a way to process them, or if you just don't like to write, you have other methods of getting your thoughts out. Consider dictating your thoughts or recording them. This could be as simple as just speaking your thoughts into your phone for a few minutes while you sit in your car in the parking lot during your lunch break.

You are Actually Saving Time by Journaling

You may feel that journaling is just one more thing taking time out of your day. In one study, law school faculty initially agreed with that. However, once they started journaling and reflecting on what they wrote, journaling actually helped them with their time management and efficiency.

Keep Your Journal Secure

If you have had a journal looked at by a parent when you were a child, or had a partner with a lack of boundaries read your journal, you may be hesitant to journal again. However, keep in mind that this violation of your privacy was in the past. You can keep a journal in a password-protected encrypted file. This way only you have access to it. (Keep in mind that nothing on a laptop, desktop, or other device can be guaranteed to be fully secure.)

Check With Your Attorney First If You Are in Litigation

If you are currently in litigation or think that there is a chance of litigation in the future, contact your attorney about whether you should keep a journal. In some states, a journal that is part of assigned therapeutic treatment is not "discoverable" in legal terms, but journals kept for private use (not part of therapeutic treatment) may be discoverable. However, that all depends on your state, country, and your circumstances. In other words, just cover your bases first and check with an attorney.

Switch Things Up

If you usually keep a written journal, try a visual journal for a bit. Or integrate written and visual. Keeping journaling interesting can keep you on track with it. Again, there are no rules. You can even keep one journal for writing about day-to-day events, and another journal for writing about your reactions to those events.

Review Your Journals

Every so often, review your journals. The time frame is completely up to you. When you read back over what you have written, you may realize how much you have grown emotionally. You may also find that your feeling that the past was so much better than your present wasn't necessarily true. Or you may find that you had healthy ways of coping back then that you didn't even realize you had. Reading about the past can help inform your future.

In my next post, Discover 8 Journaling Techniques for Better Mental Health, I will write about different ways to do journaling.


Deaver, S. P., & McAuliffe, G. (2009). Reflective visual journaling during art therapy and counselling internships: A qualitative study. Reflective Practice, 10(5), 615-632.

Smyth, J. M., Stone, A. A., Hurewitz, A., & Kaell, A. (1999). Effects of writing about stressful experiences on symptom reduction in patients with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis: A randomized trial. Jama, 281(14), 1304-1309.

Jamison, S. G. (2007). Online law school faculty perceptions of journaling as professional development: Influences, barriers and pitfalls (Doctoral dissertation, Capella University).

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