According to a 2017 study, we have a higher chance of suffering from at least one bout of mental illness than from developing diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. Of course, four years later at the time of this writing, in the maw of a pandemic, there’s no denying those stats. They’re more real than ever!
With mental health issues at all-time highs, we all need an arsenal to cope with feelings of anxiety, depression, or just the melancholy from everything going on. Our arsenal should include specialized writing prompts that can boost positive thought patterns. I wrote an article about what the BEST journaling prompts should include if you’re interested.
This post prescribes the most effective journaling prompts for mental health. Whether we use these in a dedicated “mental health journal” or as individual journal entries doesn’t matter. If we can incorporate them into our daily routine – at least for a time – they’ll make the difficult times easier to bear.
Is Journaling Good For Mental Health?
Yes! While not itself an antidote to anxiety disorders and depression, journal writing has mental health benefits. It exerts a similar force to that of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) because it can improve and stabilize thought patterns.
A well-chosen journaling prompt, conscientiously worked through, can help recover the inner conviction sufferers need to pull themselves out from the riptide of negative thinking.
The key to leveraging our journaling journey for this, though? Always strive to make the writing a positive outlet. Easier said than done when we’re feeling our strongest emotions, I know! That’s why we should work with prompts.
But, with deliberate effort, we CAN improve the condition of our stream of consciousness!
Is Journaling, Including Writing Our Own Thoughts, Narcissistic?
This question makes the rounds on journaling forums. It comes from, not a critical angle, but one of fear. Don’t worry! The vast, vast, VAST majority of journal-keepers do NOT turn into Hannibal Lecters. Neither do they turn into narcissists.
So, please, take heart!
Narcissism is an INFLATED sense of self, an unbalanced need for excessive praise and admiration. But whether we’re writing about a negative experience, the happiest memory, personal character traits, anxiety triggers, or anything else, our goal for using a journal prompt, especially for mental health issues, should be to honestly appraise ourselves.
Our REALITY of life and its efforts, no? And that involves a measure of modesty and humility, yes?
Even if our entries were based solely on imaginary things, we’d be writing, not from an inflated sense of self-importance, but from a desire for self-improvement.
The point is, the benefits of journaling FAR outweigh any potential negatives.
What, Then, Is a Mental Health Journal?
Mental health journal. Journaling for mental health. Those sound like tell-tale stigmas, don’t they?
Actually, a “mental health journal” is nothing more than a journaling habit that is psychologically and emotionally therapeutic. It could stem from any type of journaling. Casey and I are fans of bullet journaling, which definitely is an emotional outlet. Personally, I also keep a digital file to confront and snuff out my OCD, which is infamously dubbed the “doubting disease”.
Everyone who journals – and there are a LOT of us – essentially keep mental health journals! That’s all there is to it.
What Should an Effective Journal Include?
An effective journal should hone in on our problems with a goal-oriented plan to improve our thinking, mood, and behavior. In other words, honest thoughts with workable solutions. It’s much more than an uncensored outlet for venting. It’s an accurate tool for easily reflecting on self-dialogue.
We also need some sort of structure to track our progress. The best way to do this? You guessed it – through detailed journal prompts. These let us gauge our past issues in light of the present so that we may continue to better our mindset.
Categorized Journal Prompts For Mental Health
All of the mindful journaling prompts below have been carefully selected, categorized accordingly. Although several of them tackle our deepest emotions, they don’t dwell on the bad. Instead, every single query nudges us toward a tangible solution and is of topnotch quality.
Despite busy lives, if we set aside a mere 5-10 minutes a day for the commitment to journal with these, our tired brain WILL reap the nuanced benefits of writing. And, even if we’re bogged down by the debilitating quagmire of depression, we should still aim for the same goal.
For Daily Stress and Improving Our Approach to Life
- How can you brighten up your loved ones’ days? I know it feels counterintuitive during dark times, but thinking about and helping others is a potent way to beat the blues. And helping those we care about is much easier to do than to strangers. That’s why this is an excellent planner idea.
- Will you be fretting over this issue 3 months from now? Six months from now? How about a year? Why or why not? We can deal with stress a lot better if we calm down first and objectively look at the situation from a long-term view. This demands a lengthier response, but it’s perfect for putting our problems in perspective.
- How do you know you’re feeling stressed or anxious? List some things that tend to make you feel better. A perfect problem-solution type of prompt! This one only requires a 5-10 minute writing period, too.
- Describe in detail one of your favorite memories. Our precious memories, like aging fine wine, become more delightful with the passage of time. This exercise is meant to boost our mood as we draw upon our most cherished moments.
- List 3 things you’re grateful for. Why do you appreciate them? A classic. This list wouldn’t be complete without this potent exercise. Gratitude starves negativity, after all.
Writing Prompts For Anxiety
Disclaimer: For sufferers of anxiety or panic disorder, please understand that these writing prompts do not replace professional forms of treatment.
For the occasional, inexplicable panic attack, or even for bouts of bad anxiety, try these:
- Are my “What if’s” actually rational? Prove them! This is one of the gentler yet powerful prompts for anxiety. It forces you to rationalize the seemingly irrational.
- In case [insert fear here] turns into a reality, what’s the first step to fixing it? Many of our fears never even culminate. But, in case they do, we’ll at least be mentally and emotionally prepared for the next step. An alleviating, potentially preparatory query, this one is!
- What are 3 ways I can leverage my anxiety for the greater good? Not all anxiety is bad! In fact, it can be a powerful motivator for achieving our goals. This idea strives to tame the anxiety monster so that it fights FOR us, and not against us.
- I cannot change [insert whatever happened], so how can I live with it? Many situations are beyond our control. Even if our biggest anxiety is 100% due to our past actions, there’s often no point in doing a post-mortem. The sooner we learn to live with uncontrollable circumstances, the less we’ll suffer unnecessarily.
- Three examples of your fears being proved wrong are … What actually transpired? Sort of similar to the second concept, except our fears never came to be (as most of them don’t). So, rather than preparing for potentials, we’re documenting actual outcomes instead.
What About For Depression?
Disclaimer: If you suspect that you or anybody close to you suffers from serious clinical depression, it is crucial to get a thorough assessment from a competent medical professional. Unfortunately, journaling is often an inadequate form of treatment for clinical depression on its own.
Have a Realistic Approach to Depression
I’ve suffered from crippling depression in the past due to neurochemical imbalances. When we’re in the depths, I guarantee we can forget about doing extended writing. It just isn’t gonna happen. What we need are lightweight daily journaling prompts that take minimal effort.
Our approach to using prompts for depression should be, not to make detailed journal entries, but to make concise lists for happiness. For instance, we could choose a couple of questions to answer on a daily basis, one for 5-10 minutes in the morning, and another for the same amount of time before bed at night.
This way, we’re gently building up a good routine despite going through very bad times. Once we recover – and with the necessary help, we will – we’ll be glad we leveraged the benefit of journaling.
Here Are the Prompts
- Doodle or list 3 things, activities, or places that always made you feel good. These could be the simplest things, like going to Tim Horton’s with friends after a hockey game. We could do this one in the morning when we’re feeling somewhat refreshed, then follow through with its counterpart at night:
- Which of them are you going to do first when you feel better. Why? Even if we’re feeling numb right now, this prompt reinforces that everything will return to normal, that we’ll do what we love yet again. All it takes to answer are a couple of bulleted points. Even so, such simple notes instill a measure of hope.
- List 10 happy outcomes of enduring through this storm. This list is something we could work through over a number of brief sessions, especially if the feelings of hopelessness are intense at the moment.
- Name one trustworthy person you can confide in. Why can you trust him/her? If we haven’t already, this is the ideal time to draw on those who love us for support. This one kickstarts the list of confidants who will gladly help see us through.
- So that this person could better understand you, briefly describe 3 of your strongest emotions. Then, write down one thing he/she could help you with. An extension of the previous exercise, this one lays out our current situation in concrete form for our confidant. Also, in case we can’t muster the appropriate words when we’re speaking to him/her, we’ll at least have a meditated outline to fall back on.
- What comforting words would you say to someone going through depression? This idea positions us on the giving end of comfort. For me, the only benefit of having had depression is that now I have the “credentials” to comfort others. Knowing we’ve gone through the same experience as them is in itself a tremendous help.
Conclusion – Our Thoughts Change Our Brain
Mindset is more powerful than many of us think. A series of studies concluded that our thoughts have significant control over our bodies, down to the genetic level. This is why the placebo effect, while uncanny at times, is a real, well-documented thing. Some patients get better solely because their thoughts convince them so, and not due to actual medication!
By training ourselves to think positively using effective journaling prompts for mental health, we can improve our quality of life going forward. I’m not by any means saying prompts alone will fix our issues, but they’re one of the potential avenues of support.
I believe mental illness will become the biggest issue in the near future. If we can prepare well beforehand, we’ll be in a much better position to defend against the onslaught, not only for ourselves, but also for the sake of our loved ones.
7 Misconceptions Many People Have About Journaling – huffpost.com
Journaling For Mental Health – urmc.rochester.edu
How To Keep a Mental Health Journal – screening.mhanational.org
50 Amazing Journal Prompts For Mental Health From Therapists – thehowtosocialworker.com
Your Thoughts Can Release Abilities Beyond Normal Limits – scientificamerican.com
Journal Therapy – goodtherapy.org