Journal therapy can be described as using the practice of writing to intentionally improve one’s spiritual, mental and physical wellbeing. Journal therapy ideas use exercises and prompts which enable the brain to deal with and process a variety of anxious and traumatic issues.
We have a variety of blog posts which explore the subjects of anxiety and stress. In addition to this article you may also be interested in:
How to journal and create positive affirmations for anxiety
How to create a personalised anxiety journal template
Unveiling new layers to your personalised anxiety journal
How to be kind to yourself: Journal prompts for anxiety
How to manage stress with journal prompts for stress and anxiety
5 powerful journal therapy ideas to heal anxiety and trauma
The effects of anxiety and trauma on the brain
Overthinking and ruminating and repeatedly going back to the same issue without resolution are extremely tiring for the brain. You may have experienced this for yourself. If you encounter a problem, the thinking about the problem rather than the problem itself is often what makes you feel more tired and anxious.
Problems put an immense stress on the brain. The brain likes an easy life and does not like problems. But many times in our lives we face issues and situations which are stressful and require us to work out a solution for ourselves and follow a certain course of action until that solution is achieved.
The beauty of therapy journal prompts
What I absolutely love about journaling is the emotional release I experience. From feeling like I am in a straight jacket, tightly bound up and barely able to breathe, five minutes of writing later and I am able to feel the ‘tightness’ of anxiety drain away.
I can think more clearly and have a better attitude to the situation. Journaling is such a healthy way to address issues. In addition, when you journal you are creating a safe space for yourself.
Creating a safe space is so important for all of us. When we are in a state of stress of anxiety we are not in a safe space, we are in a confusing, adrenaline-inducing environment which is not healthy at all.
Comfort Zone v Safe Space
Many negative mental health conditions are exacerbated, or even caused by, us not feeling that we are in a safe space. Even the stress of our daily lives can cause us to live from a position of vulnerability rather than security. We create comfort zones for ourselves to cope with these uncomfortable feelings.
Comfort zones are things like: going to bed too early, curling up on the sofa and watching TV when you know there is something else you should be doing, eating food in reaction to external pressures, having alcohol rather than dealing with paperwork because when you have a drink you relax and when you relax you can’t focus so essentially that glass of wine or gin and tonic is calling time on your day.
Comfort zones are not your friends. A safe space is your friend. Journal therapy ideas can help you find your own safe place. Each of your journal entries is a step in the right direction to develop resilience and courage and move you towards your safe space and away from comfort zones which don’t serve you.
I would always recommend that you journal every day. But for some of you, you might not want or need to establish a daily journaling practice right now. The most important thing is that you are able to express your emotions on that blank page and feel the therapeutic benefits of journaling for yourself.
List of journal therapy Ideas to write about
Below is a list of difficulties that we face from time to time with recommendations for different journaling techniques that you can use as part of your therapeutic journaling journey.
How to get started
First thing I would recommend a new notebook. There is nothing so lovely a new journal, it’s one of the small things that make life worthwhile! When you write in your journal, write as if you are talking to your best friend or as if you were sitting opposite yourself in a cafe and talking to you.
Don’t write as if you are writing an article to be published. What matters are your thoughts about your own experiences and how you navigate your own personal experience of life.
You could also find a place where you write every day. And you could develop a routine around when and where you write.
I think you can use a digital journal if you prefer, rather than writing. I love physically writing, but I think some people prefer using a table or ipad and a stylus.
Either way, the important thing is that you are connecting with your thoughts and able to get them out of your head. So the format itself I think is not of primary importance.
So here are some situations that you may be facing with some journal therapy ideas that you can use to help navigate difficult times.
A hard time
Psych Central has some beautiful ideas for navigating a hard time:
Reframe your perspective – Imagine your are talking to a family member. How would you advise them? Then use your journal to write down the advice you would give them and apply it to yourself.
Embrace your emotions – don’t shy away from your authentic emotional state. Allow yourself to grieve, mourn, rant and rail.
Create a list of positives and negatives.
Having physical health setbacks can be a tough time, especially if it stops you form undertaking activities you love.
In a similar way to reframing your perspective above, use your journal to list out positive and negative impacts of your physical health diagnosis. I think it might be the Buddhist monks who do this.
They are given a subject and have to speak out in favour of the subject and then against the subject. The point is to regard the subject itself as neutral and that each side of the argument, the positive and then negative are both equal.
Try this for yourself in your journal. You may have a broken leg. In your list of negatives you might write that you can’t walk very far, that you can’t go swimming or walk the dogs.
On the positive side you might write that sitting down has enabled you to read more, to look out of the window and see nature, to be able to have a slower pace of life for a while and reflect on what is really important to you.
Emotional experiences can be difficult emotions to navigate. Being an emotional being is at the core of who we are. We experience life through the senses and through our emotions. But experiences which cause a yo-yo-ing of our emotions or are similar to an emotional roller coaster are truly exhausting.
Create a list of journal prompts for yourself that you can use when your emotions feel like they are on the high seas. Each day that you feel like this, go through the list of prompts and use them to return to a place of calm and peace.
Here are some ideas that you can use for yourself or as a trigger to create your own:
- How am I feeling right now?
- Where in my body do I feel this right now?
- Describe how it feels in your body
- What caused this feeling? – Write down the thought factually.
- What thought is behind that thought? (see below for an example)
- How can I think positively about that thought? – list 3 statements you can use
- Repeat those statements to yourself
- Reflect back on the original emotional experience. Does it feel better?
- If yes, great! If no, repeat the steps until you do start to feel a positive impact on your emotional experience.
- How am I feeling right now? – Stressed
- Where in my body do I feel this right now? – in my stomach
- Describe how it feels in your body – like a hand gripping my inner organs
- What caused this feeling? – Stress about work, a hard conversation with my manager
- What thought is behind that thought? – I feel like I’m not good enough for my job
- how can I think positively about that thought? – a) Noone is perfect and I am not required to be perfect nor expect perfectionism of myself b) hard conversations are part of work life and not to be taken personally c) It’s only work and there is so much more to my life than just work, need to maintain a more balanced perspective
- Reflect back on the original emotion. Does it feel better? – Yes it does feel better. I still feel a little gripping in the stomach so I’ll go through the exercise again and reduce it a little more.
I hope that exercise helps you.
Past experiences / Traumatic experiences
Journal from the perspective of what would I like to deal with, come to closure on
Some past experiences need dealing with and closure. I was listening to a really beautiful podcast the other day, Dr Mark Hyman was interviewing Marc David about emotional eating. In the conversation Marc referred to trauma as ‘undigested life experience. Isn’t that just a spot on phrase for describing that trauma which we carry?
So, sometimes our past experiences need digesting and journaling is a really valuable practice for digesting our trauma. I am really grateful for the US Department of Veterans Affairs for this excellent paper, on trauma journaling therapy. I think you will find this really useful.
No emotion is inherently bad. Negative thoughts can serve a useful purpose to help warn us of danger or a situation that might not be as it seems. However staying in a constant state of negative emotions or having a negative emotion ‘stack’ where the negative emotions just pile up, one upon the other is a very unhealthy way of living.
Writing therapy can help you navigate those emotions, deal with them (‘digest’ them to use the phrase from earlier in this post) and move past them.
- Understand your negative emotion – where does it come from? Spend time looking at the source of your emotion and journaling about it. You could set the timer for 15 minutes and just write out about that emotion. Don’t stop to think about it, just write about it. Get it all out on paper.
- Having spent time writing about your negative emotion you have something that you can address. Go through what you have written and highlight or underline the phrases that stick out for you.
- Now take each of those phrases and write out why it has specific meaning for you. Take as long or as short a time as you need for this one. Because this is where the nuggets of self reflection and self revelation lie.
- once you have done this go back over and reread what you have written. Somewhere in there will most probably be the key which sets you free from that negative emotion. Can you see it?
- If you can see it great. The final part of this exercise is to bring the two emotions together and then release yourself into a positive state. You can write it out like this:
- “I was in a state of negative emotion because ………………………………… (list out the original emotion). From my journaling practice I realise that this negative emotion is because of ………………………………..(list out what you discovered in step 3). I release the thoughts I have of (step 3). I heal myself of the emotions of (step 1) through the self revelation in my journal writing. [name your negative emotion/s] I release you now and accept self love and self acceptance into my life.”
List of journal methods to use
The exercises above are quite intense. So, as I final roundup I just want to highlight some journal therapy nuggets that you can incorporate easily and immediately into your daily life to keep your mind fit and healthy and deal with any small mental health issues as they arise.
It’s much better to deal with small niggles now rather than wait for them to become large and seemingly unmanageable.
Here then is my snapshop therapeutic journal prompts list for every day quick use:
- Keep to a daily routine
- Use writing prompts to help navigate a problem quickly. Create your own, use mine, or find your own online
- Keep a gratitude journal. Every day. Three things. Just do it.
- Develop a writing exercise habit. Keep going. Don’t stop. It takes 5 minutes. You have the time.
- On days when you feel overwhelmed write a todo list. Get everything on paper. Will take you 2 minutes and save you 2000 minutes!
- Doodle. When stressed, doodle. If you have time create art. But this is the snapshot version. Go doodle!
I hope you enjoyed this blog post and found it useful.
If you like this post you might also like:
Easy wellness journal ideas for powerful but gentle mental wellbeing
Journaling prompts for depression and strategies to cope better
Simple mindfulness journal prompts and practices to appreciate life better
Finally, let me tell you a little bit about Wardrobe Journaling. It is the process I have created that helps you understand yourself better through journaling and through thinking about the clothes you wear and your own unique personality. There are lots of Wardrobe Journaling blog posts available on this site. There is also the entirely unique Wardrobe Journaling course. If you want to take a step further into your own self development and self care this is a great, gentle but powerful course to take.
Have a great day!