Benefits and how to try

Expressive writing, commonly referred to as journaling, can provide many mental health benefits.

Keeping a journal is a powerful tool Vivian OberlingPsyD, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with Virtual Group Therapy Platform tempo. This is because journaling can provide a safe space to process and explore thoughts and emotions that affect your mood and to reflect on influential life events and experiences.

If you’re living with depression, you may have come across a number of recommended strategies for dealing with unwanted or painful emotions, including journaling daily. Perhaps you have also wondered whether this really works?

Depression is usually not something you can handle on your own. Even so, journaling can help you manage symptoms, especially if you combine your writing practice with professional treatment.

Here’s what you should know about the potential benefits of writing for depression, plus some tips to get you started.

Journaling can help relieve symptoms of depression by:

strengthen mindfulness

Mindfulness refers to a state of being fully present in a given moment – and research suggests that practicing it may help Reduce depression and anxiety.

“Journaling your current thoughts and feelings, or visual and other observations, can help you become more mindful,” she explains Kimberlee ChroniclerPsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice.

processing emotions

“Journaling can make emotions feel manageable,” he says Danielle RoeskePsyD, a psychologist and the vice president of Residential Services Newport Healthcare. “When you have a lot of negative thoughts floating around in your head, getting them out and putting them on paper helps put things in perspective so it all feels less daunting.”

In one Small study from 201320 people diagnosed with major depressive disorder wrote about their deepest feelings and thoughts around an emotional event for 20 minutes for 3 consecutive days. At the end of the study, they reported lower levels of depression. These benefits continued even 4 weeks later.

Identify triggers

“The more you write about what’s happening in your daily life, the more aware you become of what events, thoughts, or behaviors might be depressing you,” says Roeske.

You may also start noticing certain patterns. You may notice a deteriorated mood:

  • at certain times of the day
  • after talking to certain people
  • if you indulge in certain habits, e.g. B. Saying “yes” to something you don’t want to do or spending a lot of time on social media

Suppose you’ve been feeling pretty down lately without having a clear idea of ​​why. After a week of keeping a journal of things happening in your life, you find that you have experienced persistent feelings of self-doubt in a number of situations.

Oberling notes that journaling might help you identify a pattern in how you respond to these situations by withdrawing socially, engaging in negative self-talk, or reflecting mentally on what happened, all of which can perpetuate depression.

Finding the underlying trigger can help you address it, along with specific situations that drive it, and develop alternative coping strategies.

reformulate thoughts

A Study 2009 Involving children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 18, it was found that repetitive negative thinking, especially when it comes to worry, can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety.

It could go like this:

  • A friend doesn’t reply to your text messages for days.
  • This triggers the thought that maybe they are mad at you or they don’t like you anymore.
  • After all, you find yourself in a low, sad mood and constantly worrying about losing that important friendship.

According to Chronister, journaling provides an opportunity to acknowledge and challenge these thoughts and to articulate them in a more positive way.

For example, you could write down alternate reasons your friend didn’t text you back. Maybe they’re waiting until they have enough time to come up with a thoughtful response, or they’re just being overwhelmed by other life stressors and forgotten.

Chronister notes that you can also use your journal as a space for positive self-talk. For example, writing about all the valuable qualities you bring to your friendships can help eliminate the insecurities that make feelings of depression worse.

One great thing about journaling? It doesn’t require a specific method or formula.

The routine, format, and content that works best for you may depend on factors such as your personality, lifestyle, and the severity and symptoms of depression.

To start, Roeske recommends setting a timer for just 5 to 10 minutes and allowing yourself to write about whatever comes to mind in a stream of consciousness style. Try editing yourself so you can express yourself freely.

Another good strategy for beginners? “Try to log your intentions or goals in the morning and think about how you got there at night,” says Chronister. As you reflect on the day’s events, make sure to acknowledge small victories to build your self-esteem.

If you struggle with negative thought patterns that trigger or worsen depression, Roeske recommends using your journal as a space to write about positive affirmations, such as “I’m lovable, and here’s why” or “I’m strong and in able to handle anything and here is the proof.”

A small study 2015 found that practicing affirmations activates the reward system in your brain, which can help you be more optimistic about the future.

Pen and paper or digital?

Does it matter whether you keep your journal on a computer or other digital device, or write with traditional pen and paper? Chronister shares that it comes down to which method you’re most likely to stick with.

Writing with pen and paper can present fewer distractions than using a computer, while still giving you the flexibility to sketch pictures if you want to express yourself artistically.

On the other hand, journaling on a computer can be more convenient if you type faster than you write. You can also back up digital magazines so you don’t have to worry about losing the contents. Digital journaling also offers an extra layer of privacy if you’re worried about someone reading your physical journal.

Not sure what to write about?

Roeske, Oberling and Chronister recommend these prompts:

  • A challenge I overcame today was…
  • Something I’m looking forward to is…
  • One thing I learned about myself today is…
  • The person who makes me feel good when I’m around them is…
  • These are three things I am thankful for today…
  • Here’s how I plan to practice self-care today…
  • That’s the best compliment I’ve ever received…
  • Here’s a letter to my future self…
  • Here’s a letter to someone who made a positive impact on my life…
  • What are my favorite qualities in myself and why?
  • When was the last time I was really happy and under what circumstances?
  • Here is a description of my “happy place” – what emotions it evokes and what I see, smell, hear and feel when I’m there.

Regarding topics you might want to skip, focusing only on negative thoughts is generally less helpful. But you can put them on paper if needed. You might even find that this offers a sense of release or catharsis.

Just try to avoid spending all of your journaling time on negative thoughts or re-reading them when you’re done writing.

“Above all, journaling should never feel like a chore,” says Roeske. So try to write about things that bring you joy and encourage feelings of self-compassion, not self-punishment.

While journaling can be a great coping technique, this habit will not cure depression. Additionally, journaling doesn’t necessarily prove to be helpful for everyone.

For this reason, Chronister recommends rating your depression symptoms on a scale of 1 to 10 each time you journal—both before and after you journal.

Assessing your symptoms can reveal patterns of when and why your depression is getting worse or better. If your self-reported depression score doesn’t improve after about a week of journaling, or gets higher often after journaling, seeking support from a therapist is generally a good option.

According to Roeske, Oberling, and Chronister, it may be time to consider support from a therapist if you:

  • suffer from depression that makes it difficult to maintain relationships, get work done, do schoolwork, or cope with daily chores
  • have an urge to harm yourself or end your life
  • Noticing changes in your eating or sleeping habits
  • Using alcohol or other substances to relieve symptoms of depression

A trained psychiatrist can provide you with more guidance on identifying causes and triggers of depression and help you determine the most effective treatment for your needs, whether that means:

How to find the right therapist for you.

When it comes to coping with symptoms of depression, journaling is just one of the many tools at your disposal. Journaling regularly can do more than just help you process stressful or upsetting events. It can also help you:

There is no right or wrong way to keep a mental health journal. That said, it’s best to make journaling a regular part of your routine and avoid prompts or topics that encourage negative thought patterns.

If journaling doesn’t seem to be doing much for your depression symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek support. Depression often requires professional treatment, and a therapist can help you find the most helpful treatment for your specific symptoms.


Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance writer specializing in health and wellness, fitness, nutrition, lifestyle and beauty. Her work has also appeared in Insider, Bustle, StyleCaster, Eat This Not That, AskMen and Elite Daily.

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