Journaling to Manage Mental Health – 1 of a 3 part series on journaling

I have, for most of my life, had a journal of some sorts. I’ve had dozens of fancy notebooks, college ruled pages, Word folders, and more to document my life. But, hey, it’s also what I do for a living so it comes with the territory.

Journaling, for most people, is a personal thing. It is a way to get your thoughts, concerns, hopes, and fears documented for yourself. And in a world where blogs, vlogs, Youtube, and other social media track each moment of our lives, somehow the journal has maintained its quiet and often secretive hold on who we really are.

But, there is more to journaling than just documentation. Studies have shown that journaling can also improve mood, focus, and symptoms of depression. Journaling can be an important tool in managing mental health as well as improving therapy. While it may not solve everything, it is an important tool with a significant number of benefits.

Mental Health Benefits of Journaling

Improves Personal Awareness

Admittedly I don’t know the science behind it, but journaling has a way of allowing you to express your thoughts and feelings more clearly. I recall a former client who was having difficulty in our interviews because she was hesitant to reveal ALL of the information about her life. That was fine. The issue was that she did want to talk in more detail, but couldn’t quite get the words out. One day she texted me and asked, “I have a diary from when I was fourteen. Do you think we could use that?” Absolutely!

She hadn’t read the diary in decades, and when our next interview came about she told me she couldn’t believe how well she’d expressed herself. Recalling her shy and fearful teens, she wondered if the diary hadn’t been someone elses. And moving forward with her book she realized that it was easier for her to journal on off days, so that when we spoke she had a clearer vision of what she wanted to say.

organizes chaotic thoughts resulting from depression

One of the biggest challenges of mental health is the constant swirling of unmanageable worried thoughts. By writing out your thoughts you have the ability to process what you are thinking. Clinical psychologist P. Neo PhD. cites that, “When we write things down, they feel more manageable.” This can help you buffer feelings of worthlessness and bring you back to a more focused and less chaotic state.

By aligning your thoughts of depression into more manageable pieces you are empowering yourself to take an active role in your mental health improvements. Additionally, managing your thoughts can also help you recognize when you are feeling worse and may need additional attention to your mental health.

Can improve positive self-talk

While many people use journals as a way to express their thoughts and chronicle their day-to-day lives there is a journaling technique specifically focused on improving your perspective through positive self-talk.

Gratitude journals and Affirmation Journals focus on the positive things in your life and happy memories. This is important for someone who is challenged with negative thoughts from depression or anxiety. It’s a powerful way to retrain your thinking by limiting the negative thoughts and affirming the positive.

When I was in college at the University of Southern Mississippi, my psychology professor broke the class up into two groups. One group was supposed to spend a month writing about their day and then fill out an anonymous questionnaire each day focused on how they were feeling. The second group was asked to do the same thing, but instead of just journaling, they were to keep a positive-affirmation journal documenting only positive aspects of their life along with one additional request. Every hour, preferably on the hour of each day, they were asked to smile or laugh. It didn’t need to be big, and if the person was having a bad day, the smile could even be forced. A genuine smile didn’t matter. At the end of the month what we found was that the first group’s questionnaires were all over the place for the entire month, though toward the end more people had positive emotions than when started. The biggest surprise was that with the second group, randomly selected in the beginning of the experiment, every single person in the group had over the course of a month smiling, gone from similar emotions as the first group to startlingly positive.

Allows you to evaluate mental health patterns

When I was in my mid-twenties I recall taking the time each month to review my bank statement. What I wanted to do was evaluate how I was spending my money in an effort to determine where I was wasting money. Journaling allows you to see things similarly to reviewing a bank statement. When you log your thoughts, feelings, and symptoms each day you have a better opportunity to identify when specific symptoms occur: morning, middle of day, at night, after eating, when under stress, or during relationship interactions.

A deeper insight into triggers as well as positive feelings can help you focus on specific events, moments, or other actions that may cause you to fall into a deeper state of depression. Your journal can both identify red-flags that you need more help as well as can reassure you that you are doing well.

This is the first of three articles that focus on journaling. The following articles in the series offer valuable tips to write a successful journal as well as additional ways to journal if your not into actually writing.


I am a full-time freelance writer specializing in memoirs and autobiographies on mental health, domestic and sexual abuse as well as other topics. I also write blogs, web-content, and handle several other types of projects. To see what I offer visit my rates page or contact me with specific queries and questions. I’m also available to help mentor you through your first book. I’d love to work with you, and if you know anyone else looking for a writer I offer a generous referral fee.

If you would like to leave a donation for people interested in writing a book about their life and challenges, but lack the budget, you can contribute here.

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