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Journaling 101

A quick search for self-care tips will often lead you to journaling. Perhaps you have even stumbled upon journaling as a tool listed in one of our resources like the 30-Day Self-Care Challenge and Self-Care 101 tip sheet.  

Beginning a journal can feel daunting, but it doesn’t need to be—there are many ways to journal, and with its proven benefits, it might be something worth trying.  

If you are interested in learning more about journaling, including how to get started, keep reading.

Benefits of journaling

Journaling can have many positive benefits related to mental health and well-being such as managing anxiety, reducing stress, and coping with depression. Some of the other positive effects of journaling are:

  • Privacy – you can choose if you want to share your journal with others. This privacy and control create a safe space for you to let out your thoughts and feelings however your wish, without any judgment.
  • Emotional release – journaling gives you the space to express and engage with your thoughts. This can be particularly helpful during times when it is hard to quiet your mind. Writing down these thoughts can help to get them out of your head and release the noise they create.
  • Self-awareness – journaling promotes self-reflection and can help you to explore experiences. Putting your experiences into words can also help you to form new perceptions about them. This gentle reflection can help you to gain a better understanding of yourself, your triggers, thoughts, and feelings.

Ways to journal

Journaling is a form of self-expression. Often it is shown as writing in a notebook using a pen or pencil. While that is one form of journaling, there are many more. If you are considering journaling, do what feels most comfortable to you. Express yourself using whatever medium you prefer! Here are some ideas:

  • Doodles
  • Pictures
  • Videos
  • Artistic mediums
  • Apps
  • Voice memos

Types of journals

There are many different methods of journaling and topics to explore, some of which we explore below. Depending on what you hoping to gain from journaling, you might try one of these options or create your own. You also don’t need to stick to one method or topic – you can choose what works best for you in the moment.

Bullet journal

A bullet journal often refers to a dot-grid notebook. It’s most often used as a method of organization – think reminders, to-do lists, planning, and brainstorming. Bullet journals can also be used to manage mental health by tracking things like moods, habits, and mental health triggers.

Here are some considerations to get you started:

  • How will you use your bullet journal (e.g., a planner, to-do list, and/or mood tracker)?
  • How would you like to lay out this information? Tip: try searching online for fun layouts. Using #BulletJournal in Instagram or TikTok is one way to find some inspiration.

Gratitude journal

Research has shown that gratitude has a positive effect on mental health and is linked to positive emotions such as happiness. One of the ways that you can practice gratitude is through journaling. Gratitude journaling involves keeping a diary of things that you are grateful for each day.

Here are some prompts to get you started:

  • Who are you grateful for?
  • What book(s) or movie(s) are you grateful for?
  • What is something that you are grateful for today?
  • What skills or strengths do you have that you are grateful for?

For more ideas, check out our gratitude exercises

Text and a cartoon person smiling and wearing headphones. A full description follows.

Personal gratitude

Take a moment to complete each of the following statements.

One of my strengths that I am grateful for is…
One thing I can do to express gratitude is…
One person I am grateful for is…
One memory I am grateful for is…
One challenge I am grateful for is…
One beautiful thing in my life I am grateful for is…

Text and a cartoon person pointing to a watch on their wrist. A full description follows.

Gratitude Notes

Find yourself a journal or some blank pieces of paper.
Every morning write one thing you are thankful for.
Every evening, re-read what you’ve written that day and in the days before.

There are many things, big and small to be thankful for in our lives. Try and hold onto these.

You’re doing great.

Reflective journal

A reflective journal is a space for you to reflect on the day or past experiences.

Here are some prompts to get you started:

  • Is there anything causing you stress right now?
  • What is your favourite way to recharge? Why?
  • What is your favourite memory?
  • What makes you feel powerful? Why?

If you prefer more structured writing, try answering these questions in your reflection about a specific experience:

  • What happened?
  • How did it make you feel?
  • How have you tried to make sense of this experience?
  • How is this experience similar and different from others?
  • What, if anything, have you learned?

Goal journal

A goal journal can be helpful if you are hoping to make a change in your life or achieve a specific accomplishment. They can help you plan and track your progress. When creating a goal in your journal think about making SMART goals:

  • Specific – make your goals specific and narrow
  • Measurable – share how you will measure your progress and know if you are on track to reach your goals
  • Attainable – make sure that you can realistically achieve your goals
  • Relevant – make sure that your goals align with your values
  • Time-bound – set a realistic time frame to accomplish your goals within

Here are some prompts to get you started:

  • What are some short-term goals that you have?
  • What are some long-term goals that you have?
  • What do you want to achieve in the next year?
  • Are there any goals that you once had that you no longer have?

Unsent letters

We’ve all been there – the words that you wanted to say came to you long after the experience passed. Or maybe, it wasn’t the right time or place to share what you really wanted to. Whatever the reason, writing letters to those people or writing letters about a particular situation, even without sending them, can help to release these thoughts.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • A letter to a loved one
  • A letter to your future self
  • A letter to prepare for a difficult conversation
  • A letter to the editor

Getting started with journaling

Now you might have a better idea of some of the types of journaling, but the question remains, “Where do I start?”. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Let go of your expectations – Journals are not meant to be academic papers with perfect grammar, sentence structure, and flow. You also don’t need to fill up multiple pages for every journaling session. There is no one way to journal so do what feels best for you.
  • Set sometime aside each day – It’s easy to toss the journal aside when there are so many things to do in a day. Try to set aside a few minutes each day to journal. Try attaching it to another habit in your day – for example, if you watch a show before bed, take 3-5 minutes before the show starts to journal.

It’s okay if journaling isn’t for you!

If you find that journaling doesn’t feel right for you – that’s okay! It isn’t for everyone! What’s important is that you are finding self-care strategies that work for you.   If your concerns are larger than journaling, or you go-to self-care strategies aren’t working, maybe it’s time to connect with a friend or a trusted adult for some additional support. To find tips on reaching out, check out Support your mental health. Some of resources, like the Reaching Out tip sheet or Circle of Support pocketbook, might also be helpful.