When it comes to your mental health, there are many small changes you can make to your life outside of therapy to ease stress and boost your well-being. This includes getting adequate sleep, eating a nutritious diet, exercising and practicing mindfulness. Research also shows that writing down your thoughts using a mood journal can help ease depression. Here’s how journaling for depression works, with practical tips to help you add this strategy to your mental health self-care toolkit today.
What Is Journaling?
Journaling is a process that involves writing down your feelings to improve self-awareness. Unlike a traditional diary that’s a record of events, a journal explores your reactions to these events. It forces you to intentionally slow down your thoughts and get a better understanding of your feelings on a daily basis.
Some therapists use journaling for depression and anxiety treatment, but it’s an easy and inexpensive technique for anyone to try at home to help improve mental health and addiction recovery.
Journal Therapy for Depression
Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, almost 8% of American adults have a major depressive episode each year. Nearly 4% of U.S. adults have a co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness.
Journaling has a positive effect on mood and mental health on two levels, says the Greater Good Science Center at the University of Berkeley:
- It enables you to release distressing thoughts that might be stuck in your head.
- It lets you reflect on your emotions instead of automatically falling into old patterns of behavior.
5 Tips to Start Journaling Today
1. Get Your Supplies
Set aside a specific notebook for journaling, whether it’s a notepad from the dollar store or a leather-bound journal that makes writing seem like a special activity. If you’re creative, pick up a set of colorful pens. You may want a pocket-size notebook that fits in your bag so you can write wherever you are.
2. Write Openly
Let the words spill onto the page without second-guessing what you’re writing or thinking you’re being judged. Your journal is a personal, safe space, so you shouldn’t feel self-conscious or embarrassed. A journal for depression is most effective when you’re truthful and open with yourself.
3. Don’t Worry About Sentence Structure
When it comes to journaling for depression, it’s more important to express your thoughts than proofread. Focus less on the mechanics of writing and encourage the ideas to flow.
4. Remember, There Are No Rules
Express yourself in any way that suits you. Some days you may want to let off steam. Other days, you might be inspired to write a poem.
You can also create a mood journal to see how you feel each day and track patterns in your emotions. The important thing is to connect with your thoughts.
5. Make Journaling a Habit
While you might be inclined to only pick up your notebook when you’re stressed, journaling is most effective as a mental health tool when you spend time with it each day and can see changes in your behavior and thinking. Set a timer on your smartphone and commit to writing for at least 15 minutes a day.
Pick the time of day you’re most likely to write so journaling becomes routine. Some people write in the morning to focus their thoughts and start the day with a set of goals and a positive attitude. Journaling at night can help clear tensions before you go to sleep.
What Should You Write About in Your Journal?
Now that you’ve got your journal in hand, you’re ready to start. If you’re looking at the blank pages in front of you and feeling intimidated, remember there’s no right or wrong when it comes to journal therapy for depression. The goal is to have self-awareness about what you’re thinking and how you feel.
Here are some prompts to fall back on if you’re feeling the words are blocked.
Start With Your Emotions
Begin with how you feel. Try to capture your range of emotions, whether it’s anger, frustration, sadness or loneliness. From there, begin working through your feelings by reflecting on what might be causing these emotions.
You can then decide whether you simply need to relieve tension by venting or want to problem-solve and figure out an action plan.
Your journal is an opportunity to focus on what’s good in your life. A few times a week, reflect in detail on something you’re grateful for, whether it’s a person, an act of kindness or a stunning sunrise. Research shows that positivity and gratitude can help improve mood.
Write a Letter
When a person is occupying your thoughts — perhaps someone you miss or argued with — write a letter that you don’t send. This type of writing can be therapeutic by letting you release all the feelings you’re holding in.
Depression can make you feel like you’re fixed in place and unable to move forward. A journal can be a catalyst in helping you set goals. Use your journal to remind yourself of what you want to accomplish, no matter how big or small.
It could be adding a positive habit to your routine, such as daily exercise, or learning a new skill. Celebrate your progress or map new strategies to reach your goals if you need to.
Create a Mood Journal
A mood journal focuses on trends in how you’re feeling each day. You could start each journal entry with a quick check of your mood, energy and enjoyment of daily activities. Over time, you may be able to identify behaviors that affect your depression and work toward making changes.
Always Revisit Your Writing
Part of the purpose of journaling for depression is to better understand your feelings. While you might be writing from emotion on a particular day, growth comes from learning from those experiences.
Always make a point of looking back on old journal entries to try to interpret what was causing those feelings. A little time and distance can help you identify negative patterns in your thoughts and behaviors.
Journaling offers many mental health benefits but isn’t a treatment on its own. If you’re having difficulty coping with depression, our counselors are ready to support you on your journey to recovery. Learn more about our mental health and addiction programs by calling us any time of day at (833) 596-3502.