Journaling for Health: Why and How-To


Some very important people have famously kept a personal diary: Frida Kahlo, Leonardo da Vinca, Marie Curie, and Charles Darwin, to name a few. 

And some modern “important people” i.e., social media influencers have made the “THAT GIRL” morning journal a thing.

If you don’t know the facts, it can be difficult to determine if taking time to write down your thoughts and feelings is actually worth the time. What’s better for your health: a 5-minute journal or doing something else more action-oriented? 

According to our investigation, the answer is journaling. Writing in a life journal optimizes your mental and physical well-being. Here’s why, and how. 

Table of Contents

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Benefits of Journaling

Journaling has been scientifically proven to make our lives better by…

  • Improving memory
  • Creating a positive outlook
  • Reframing negative emotions
  • Aiding focus and organization
  • Boosting immune function
  • Increasing personal awareness
  • Providing a sense of purpose
  • Building productivity levels
  • Helping with sleep

But how does something as simple as journaling actually cause such a profound change in our wellness? Let’s explore.

Gratitude Journal Your Way To Health

The expression of gratitude has been proven to create better mental and physical health. Journaling helps us to analyze both the positives and negatives of any day, situation, or thought process. The mere act of slowing down to process an idea usually decreases its perceived pressure. And taking time to reflect upon one’s day inevitably reveals something unexpectedly delightful. Thinking about what was, what is, and what is to come creates a certain sense of optimism, appreciation, and hope. Even women suffering from extreme depression show better mental health when tasked with writing a reflection journal.(1)

Increase Your Motivation and Productivity

Whether you’re trying to start a new wellness practice or finish your thesis project, a fitness journal or mindfulness journal might be the ticket to overcoming a plateau. University students who were provided a two-week online journaling task showed higher levels of academic motivation(2). Taking time to write down tasks related to your work or your progress toward a goal can help you to enjoy the journey and creatively handle any obstacles along the way.

Get Better Sleep

Many of us know the feeling: lying in bed, drained and craving respite, but unable to fall asleep because of nagging thoughts and worries. In one study, participants suffering from this ailment were given two different journaling assignments: one, to write down the tasks that they had completed during the day; two, to write down the tasks they planned to complete the next day. The participants who wrote down the next day’s tasks fell asleep markedly faster than those who wrote down what had already been done. If you struggle to fall asleep at night, try making a to-do list diary.

Boost Your Immune System

It’s hard to believe, but it’s proven true: journaling helps our immune systems. It’s unclear whether the effect is physical or psychological, but the effect is real. A group of people was assigned journaling for 15-20 minutes, 3-5 times in a week. Those who wrote creatively and expressively about their lives showed a reduction in blood pressure, fewer visits to the doctor, and improved lung and liver function.(3) If you struggle to find artistic avenues for writing, use the prompt at the end of this blog post for ideas.

Deal With Stress, Anxiety, and Depression

Here’s where clinical evidence in support of journaling shines. Journaling helps people struggling with negativity reframe their emotions functionally and positively. Through journaling, we can see our patterns of negative self-talk, triggers, and stressors. Then, we learn to recognize and mitigate these situations before they become uncontrollable. Adolescents tasked with journaling show reduced depressive symptoms.(4) Nursing students who journaled during the COVID-19 pandemic managed their stress and behavior better than those who didn’t.(5) And it wasn’t just nurses who found respite from coronavirus anxiety through journaling: a simple gratitude writing intervention decreased stress and negative thoughts in a random selection of people during the pandemic.(6)

Manage Symptoms Of Trauma

When dealing with trauma, journaling offers excellent symptom mitigation. Trauma survivors show decreased emotional symptoms and better physical health when they maintain a self-care journal.(7) Those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) showed an increased ability to make efficient and sound decisions (a skill that’s sometimes lost after a traumatic experience).(8)

A Coping Mechanism For Mental And Physical Disorders

For those with more intense mental and physical challenges, journaling is a therapeutic tool. Women suffering from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) demonstrate reduced anxiety when they keep a diary.(9) People suffering from sarcoma used journaling as a therapeutic avenue to deal with the discomfort of chemotherapy and were more likely to stay in cancer treatment.(10) Parents in recovery from substance abuse used journaling as a self-care tool that ultimately made their parenting practices more effective.(11) And eating disorder patients are given a food journal to check in with their emotions before and after meals as a way of confronting food fears and disordered eating behaviors head-on.

Convinced Yet?

Not everyone is naturally inclined to sit and write. The good news: there are many ways to journal, from doodling to task listing. Read on for ideas!

Journaling How-To Guide

Now that you’ve been convinced of the power of pen and paper, here are a few ways to jumpstart your mindfulness writing efforts.

The Rules: There Are No Rules

Before you begin, one thing must be made clear: there are no rules, requirements, structure, or “wrong” ways to journal. Get rid of any self-judgment and expectations around how your journal should look or sound. Let whatever happens, happen. Approaching journaling with curiosity and observation is key to gaining personal insight and actionable inspiration.

Planned Journal

Some people benefit from structured writing time. As mentioned earlier, many influencers suggest that journaling first thing in the morning is best, as it guarantees that you set up your day mindfully (and that it gets done). Choosing a realistic timeframe and setting a timer ensures holds you more accountable to journaling. Plus, making a “goal” around how often and for how long you write has the added feel-good benefits of accomplishment. 

Set A Time

Take a look at your week ahead. Map out when, and for how long, you’ll journal. Set up a comfortable, safe, and quiet space for writing. Pour yourself a cup of tea, grab your favorite pen, and see what comes out.

On-The-Fly Journal

If the thought of sitting down at planned intervals to journal gives you the jitters, then you might benefit from keeping a small journal with you for on-the-go jotting. It can come in handy if you are triggered often by small things, as you can confront those emotions the moment they arise. If you don’t want to journal about yourself, try journaling about the world around you: the interesting people riding the subway with you, what you encountered during your run, or the project at work that you can’t seem to solve. Mixing intense ideas with light-hearted musings can give you a new perspective on daily life.

Grab And Go

Get a small journal and pen that you can always keep with you. Jot down ideas as they come and observations about the world around you. You might be surprised about how many funny experiences you encounter, and how many good ideas you capture.

Wellness Journal

Journaling in a fitness diary creates the mind-body connection that may help you achieve your goals. Here are three types of wellness journals:

  • Yoga journal: keep a journal near your yoga mat. Before the yoga session begins, write down how your body currently feels and your intentions for the practice. After the practice, write down how your physical sensations have changed. You can even stop in the middle of practice to acknowledge any ideas or sensations that arise.
  • Fitness journal: rather than using your phone to track reps and sets, try using a pen and notebook. In addition to writing down your workout, note physical and mental sensations. Did the workout leave you drained and depressed, or did you bound out of the gym energetically? Did one of the movements irritate your shoulder? If so, what might be the source of pain? And if you have some divine ideation about life in the middle of your workout, you can stop to write it down.
  • Food journal: as mentioned before, eating disorder patients are given journals to track their food. But, they’re not tracking calories and intake. Rather, they’re tracking the emotional impetus and response to eating. Tracking your nutrition is a great way to ensure that you’re getting adequate micros and macros. Adding your emotional relationship to eating can also help you understand food cues and find alternatives to emotional eating. The goal is to understand your daily needs so that you can become an intuitive eater

If journaling still feels to be a heavy burden, or if you’re at a loss for where to start, we’ve got a prompt for you…

Try This! Journaling Prompt

If you’re still unsure of your unique journaling intentions, try using this series of questions. Set a timer for 5 minutes and see how many answers you can write. If you finish early, go back and add more detail to your answers. Just keep asking yourself, “Why?” and writing down the answer, again and again. Eventually, you’ll learn your deepest perspective on things!

  • What are three words to describe how you feel right now emotionally?
  • What are three words to describe how you feel right now physically?
  • What color matches your mood?
  • What was one delightful thing that happened to you today?
  • What was one challenging thing that happened to you today?
  • What is your intention for the day?
  • What are your tasks for the day?
  • What is something that you can do for self-care today?
  • What happened on this day 1 year ago?

Happy journaling!

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