5 mental health benefits of journaling + how to get started

Black pen lying on open notepad.

The beginning of a new year is a time when many people set goals and try new things. One of those new habits is journaling.

Journaling is simply writing down your thoughts, feelings and experiences. There’s no wrong way to do it. It’s a very personal experience—and it’s one that can provide mental health benefits, too. And you can start journaling—or start journaling again—any time.

“There’s never a bad time to develop a healthy new habit,” says Benjamin Breeding, a behavioral health manager for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “Choosing to write regularly in a journal may be one of the most impactful choices that you make.”

Mental health benefits of journaling

Benjamin: People choose to journal for many different reasons. You might like to explore potential solutions to problems, record memories to enjoy later, keep records of experiences, or reflect upon your gratitude for the small and large blessings in your life.

Here are some key mental health benefits from journaling.

  1. Manage depression. The holiday season can be challenging for a lot of people, but it can be especially hard if you struggle with depression. You may be able to begin addressing and processing some of those feelings by writing them down.
  2. Cope with grief. If you’ve lost a loved one, journaling may help you cope with your grief. By giving your sadness a voice, you can validate those feelings, allow yourself to feel them fully and perhaps to accept them. Journaling won’t “fix” your grief, but it may be an effective support tool.
  3. Reduce stress levels. If the stress is weighing you down, write about it. Write down your priorities so you can see what challenges you need to address—and where to start. Seeing it all written out may help you feel less anxious.
  4. Enhance creativity. There are no rules when it comes to journaling, so you can write, scribble, draw, doodle, or do whatever you want. You might surprise yourself with what you come up with.
  5. Grow personally. You may have some life goals or some unfinished tasks in your life that you’d like to address. Journaling can help you explore various paths to reaching them, and reflect upon what works and what doesn’t.

Additionally, journaling may help you get ahead, professionally speaking. Business leaders often urge trainees to write down their five, 10, and 20-year plans for themselves. The act of putting it all in writing can help them figure out the steps to achieve their goals.

How to get started

Benjamin: Getting started may be the hardest part. The best advice that I can give to you is this: just start!

Use whatever format you want
You don’t have to buy a fancy journal or notebook—unless you want to. You can write in an old notebook or the notepad that you pulled out of the junk drawer. If you don’t feel comfortable writing, or you have problems writing, find a quiet place and use a voice recorder or the voice memo function on your phone. There are also a variety of apps dedicated to journaling.

Make time
Journaling is self-care, and if you’re like most people, time for self-care is one of the first things we cut out of our busy schedules. But if you’re going to grow or succeed, it’s important to take time for that purpose. Pick a time during the day that you feel you can consistently spend a few minutes journaling. Any time of day (or night) that works for you is fine; you just want to be consistent. It may be difficult to remember at first, but soon it will become second nature.

Don’t judge yourself
Be kind to yourself when you journal. No one will read it but you. There are no grades, critiques or assessments in journaling. If you’re recording your journal, don’t cringe at the sound of your own voice, either. And don’t let grammar or spelling slow you down or hamper you as you express your feelings.

“Let your journal be a place where you record what you want to and have a sense of freedom,” Benjamin says. “Try not to judge yourself or place unnecessary expectations on what you create. There is no ‘right’ way or ‘wrong’ way to journal, so just enjoy yourself and be open to what you can learn about yourself.”

More from Benjamin Breeding on WellTuned

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.