Journalling is a technique that some people find helpful for dealing with stress, anxiety and depression. You can use your journal to help you monitor your habits and behaviours, or process your feelings.

Journalling is different from keeping a dairy – you don’t record everything that happened in your day, but you can record how you felt about the day - you just write whatever comes to mind, for 15 minutes.


Starting a journalling habit.

Paper or Digital? Many people find that writing by hand helps them process their thoughts better. However, it’s important that you pick whichever format is most convenient for you. Choose a paper journal if you enjoy writing by hand, or use a computer if you prefer to type.

  • Some people like the idea of buying an attractive note book, or covering one in a beautiful fabric, others are happy writing in something simple, or using their laptop.
  • A paper journal will make it easier to get creative with your entries if you’re interested in incorporating art into your journal, but you can cut and paste images from the internet into your digital journal.


Write in your journal every day to get the most benefit. 

Most people who use a journal find that it’s important to do it regularly. Pick a time when it’s convenient for you to write, then challenge yourself to write every day. If you schedule your journalling time into your day like any other important appointment and try to stick to the same time very day, you’ll be more likely to embed it into your routine.

  • You might write in your journal every morning when you have your first tea or coffee, or just before bed.
  • If you commute by bus or train, could you use that time to write in your journal?
  • Could you write in it just before, or after, your bath or shower?

 Set a timer for 15 minutes. 

When you first start journalling, give yourself a short window of time to do it, so it doesn’t feel overwhelming, or a burden. Start with 15 minutes, but feel free to adjust the time to better suit your needs. It’s okay to keep writing for longer than 15 minutes, the purpose of the timer is to help you feel like there’s structure to your journaling practice, which might help you get started more easily.

To get started, jot down or type any words that pop into your head.

The goal is to write about your thoughts - or triggers or stressors, but don’t worry about that right now. It’s okay to write things like, “I don’t know what to say,” or “I can’t think of anything right now.”


If you don’t like writing in sentences…you can still benefit from journalling. Don’t worry about writing out sentences or paragraphs. Try out different ways of expressing yourself:

  • Write a poem (and remember - poems don’t have to rhyme!).
  • Draw an image that expresses how you feel or what’s on your mind.
  • Write a letter.
  • Write a story. Make yourself the main character.
  • Make a list.
  • Use “I” sentences: I like…I feel sad when…I feel good when…
  • Try doodling – it can enhance creative thought. Doodling relaxes you just enough that something in the back of your mind can come to fruition naturally.


Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s really on your mind - that’s okay! Just put down any words that come to mind, even if they don’t make sense. You might find that you find a main idea or theme starts emerging, which will tell you how you feel. If that doesn’t happen, don’t worry, you can always try again with your journal tomorrow. If it does happen (see the example below) you might want to follow up your thoughts the next day, when you get your journal out again.

For example, somebody might write  “Sitting here not really knowing what to write. It’s been a long day and I’m tired but I can’t figure out why I feel down today and I think it’s because things haven’t been good at work, so maybe I need to change something, but what can I change?”


Don’t worry about spelling or grammar.  It’s not an exam, your journal is for you. It really doesn’t matter if you use proper sentences or spell words correctly. Let your thoughts flow freely - without self-editing.


Your journal is a judgment-free zone! Give yourself permission to write whatever you’re feeling, without policing your thoughts. Try to avoid attaching negative emotions like guilt or embarrassment to what you’re writing. You have every right to your thoughts and feelings.


So what’s journalling used for?

Well, people who find journals helpful use them for different purposes. Here are a few examples:

Express whatever’s on your mind when you sit down to write. 

A good way to use journalling to process thoughts and feelings is to write about what’s going on in your life that day. Discuss what’s happened to you, how you feel about things, and any worries that you have. Keep writing until your timer goes off, or you feel better.


Journalling can help you to identify patterns.

For example, you might write “Today I felt really sad. It was cold and dark.” You might look back in your journal and discover that you felt the same on a rainy day last week. If you think the weather affects your mood, you can use your journal to reflect on ideas for how you might help yourself combat those gloomy days.

 Additionally, you can rate your mood, or your symptoms, on a numerical scale. Then, look back over your moods to see what helps you feel good and what triggers a low mood. This could help you make positive changes to improve your mood overall.

You could write your mood in a word, or some people use a symbol. You might rate your moods on a scale of 1-5.


Try using your journal to release difficult emotions. 

We all deal with setbacks and conflicts differently, but many of us find it hard to work through the strong negative emotions that these situations can trigger. Your journal can be a tool that you can use to process these emotions and figure out what your next steps might be. For example, you can write a complaint about everything that’s going wrong, or you can write a letter to the person who hurt you. The purpose is not to send it, but to review what you’ve written, find the words to communicate how you feel and then decide what you might do next, to address the issue.


Some people use a journal to document their symptoms.

You might find that keeping track of your symptoms can help determine which treatment or medication suits you best.


Record evidence for or against your beliefs about yourself. 

Most of us have a mixture of positive and negative beliefs about ourselves but sometimes, too many negative beliefs can exacerbate depression and anxiety, even though these beliefs may not be true. When you have a negative thought about yourself, write down the evidence you have to both believe and disbelieve that thought. Use this practice to help you view yourself in a more positive light.

 So, for example, you might have a habit of telling yourself that you’re stupid.

Use your journal to list examples of times you’ve said something smart, topics that you’re particularly knowledgeable about, and any education that you’ve completed. Try to be generous in your definitions – there are lots of ways in which people are clever (and kind, funny, interesting etc). At the end of your list, you might say, “I’m really clever at organising events and I’m excellent at remembering important stuff like family birthdays.”


Make a pros and cons list if you have a decision to make. 

Big decisions are always hard, but they can feel even more overwhelming if you’re dealing with mental illness. Your journal can help you break decisions into more manageable pieces, by looking at the pros and cons.

Draw a line down the centre of your page, listing the pros of a choice on the left side and the cons on the right side.

Here's a simple example: Whether to get a puppy.

Pros: Having comfort, Never feeling alone, Will have to get out regularly, Feeling happy when I see my pet.

Cons: Expensive, Need to clean up after it, Need lot of energy on daily basis.

So there you go - that's journalling in a nutshell!