By: Serena Dorf
Medical review by Patricia Salber MD, MBA
Updated on April 11, 2020
Journaling can help you alleviate mental health issues like anxiety and stress, improve your cognitive and emotional power, and explore your full potential.
Journaling is an amazing practice that serves so many different purposes. At first, journaling was perceived as an activity reserved for writers and high-school teens. Of course, that is no longer the case, as people of all ages have discovered that journaling is a valuable tool for improving one’s mental health.
Keeping a journal allows you to establish, track, and achieve your goals, improves the quality of life, and helps you alleviate or eliminate pressing mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or stress. Besides the reduction of negative symptoms, journaling will improve your cognitive and emotional power, allowing you to explore your full potential.
Why is Journaling so Effective?
So how come writing in a journal has such a tremendous impact on our mental health and wellbeing? After all, journaling is the simple act of putting words on a piece of paper.
Writing in a journal requires the application of the rational left side of your brain, which is basically the analytical part of your mind. While your left brain (left hemisphere) is “busy” or “occupied”, the right brain (right hemisphere), which is the creative and sensible side of you, will be free to wander and play.
While your creative juices are triggered, you’ll become more intuitive, inspired, and confident in your own thoughts.
What is journaling useful for?
Overall, journaling is known to be useful for:
- Boosting your moods and positive feelings
- Improving our self-awareness
- Reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Improving your memory power
- Enhancing your sense of well-being
- Diminish the post-traumatic symptoms such as intrusion or avoidance
The Cambridge journal suggests that journaling/expressive writing is particularly useful for individuals who suffer from PSTD conditions and also for those who have a history of trauma. The journal suggests that writing about our deepest fears and challenges can help us reduce our inhibited emotions (and the stress that comes with them).
Besides, it can help us confront, process, and overcome the memories of terrible events and make us stronger in the face of similar, future experiences.
Journaling and Depression
Since depression is one of the most daunting mental health issues, people have been struggling to find effective ways to combat its effects on a regular basis. After many years of scientific research, journaling has been identified as an incredibly helpful practice that can aid people in managing their depressive symptoms.
Here are some scientific studies that document the effectiveness of journaling for combating depression:
- Journaling can significantly reduce the symptoms of depression in women who have been abused by their intimate partner.
- Journaling has been proven to reduce the rumination and brooding of college students who are vulnerable to depression and anxiety symptoms. These are two of the primary factors that lead to depression.
- Three days of expressive writing (20 minutes/day) has reduced the symptoms of people who were diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder.
- High-risk adolescents can reduce their depressive symptoms by journaling daily as much as they can do so by approaching CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).
In short, the benefits of keeping a journal for people who suffer from depressive symptoms are quite clear. It helps them maintain a positive frame of mind, allows them to confront and diminish negative thoughts and emotions, and gives them the opportunity to enhance their sense of well-being.
Journaling and Anxiety
Anxiety and depression are two different yet highly similar mental health issues. Many times, depression is triggered by high doses of anxiety, and the other way around. Journaling is a universal tool that fights both of these terrible mental conditions, making people’s lives easier to cope and digest.
To address our disempowering thought patterns, we must first identify them. As psychiatrist Barbara Markway suggests the best way to acknowledge and understand your thought processes is to simply write them down.
A journal is our best friend when it comes to that because it is our intimate channel of communication that allows for effective communication with ourselves. If we keep practicing, we’ll identify the primary roots of our pressing problems and our subconscious mind will be able to start “working on it”.
How journaling affects your mood
Here’s how journaling can positively shape and affect your moods and emotions while dealing with anxiety symptoms:
- Journaling is a tool that allows you to explore the experiences that make you anxious.
- It helps you clear your mind of intrusive thoughts that “won’t leave you alone”.
- Journaling helps you calm your mind.
- It releases negative feelings and thoughts.
- By keeping a journal, you can mark your successes and failures, and you’ll be able to identify the factors that contributed to those results.
- It helps you detect your emotional triggers. Therefore, keeping a journal can improve your self-awareness.
- Journaling will help you measure your progress as you undergo treatment.
As for the scientific proof, here is a small sampling of resources that showcase concrete evidence on how journaling is effective for diminishing the effects of anxiety disorders:
- Journaling reduces anxiety, physical symptoms, and health problems in women. (LaClaire, 2008)
- Patients with multiple sclerosis report reduced symptoms of anxiety after journaling for a couple of weeks.
- Keeping a journal is extremely beneficial for students who have trouble managing their anxiety and stress symptoms. On top of that, it has been proven to increase their engagement and meaning for learning
Journaling and Stress Management
While anxiety and depression are two serious diseases that must be managed and controlled, their arousal can often be prevented by reducing the levels of stress that we experience each day.
Elizabeth Scott, a successful coach that specializes in stress management, suggests that,
“Journaling is an effective method of diminishing the daily stress because it allows you to explore your past and present thoughts, emotions, and actions. It releases tension and helps you fully integrate your past experiences into your mind.”
Besides the mentioned effects, keeping a journal can also help you alleviate your stress symptoms through:
- Improving your immune system
- Strengthening your cognitive abilities
- Planning out your future actions while taking into consideration more potential outcomes.
- Reducing symptoms of different health problems.
- Examining and studying your thoughts and shift your mindset.
- Reducing promoting and rumination action.
Related content: Natural Remedies that Support Positive Mental Health
Other Important Psychological
Benefits of Daily Journaling
Stress, anxiety, depression — these are the extreme situations that can be managed with the use of this amazing practice. However, besides the recovery aspects, daily journaling can also facilitate the following benefits:
- Keeping a journal can boost your long-term well-being, increase the quality of sleep, and diminish the physical pain symptoms.
- It can increase your levels of optimism, which will directly impact your health and happiness.
- Journaling will turn into a friendlier person, helping you experience positive feelings while engaging with other people.
- By keeping a daily journal, your commitment and discipline to follow through with your goals will improve.
- It facilitates personal growth by developing a record of key lessons and ideas that you’ve discovered on your own. It helps you remember everything more effectively.
- Journaling will turn you into a more sensitive and grateful person.
- It can help you discover your voice, an aspect that can turn you into a professional writer.
- Keeping a journal gives you the chance to store both your negative and positive experiences. You will be able to come back and observe the person you used to be and gain the necessary inspiration and motivation to keep on progressing.
Scientific journals and studies provide evidence of the benefits of keeping a journal. The experiences and benefits that journaling brings are different for each and every one of us because we’re obviously facing different problems, we come from different backgrounds, and we have different goals.
Our journals are for us and us alone, allowing us to be authentic, honest, and transparent with every thought and feeling we experience. That’s something that you can hardly achieve when talking to our family, friends, or even psychiatrists. All you have to do is give it a try. I promise you won’t regret it!
 Classen, Wales Holmes, Koopman, Palesh, Ismailji, 2005
 Gortner, Rude, Pennebacker, 2006
 Deldin, Krpan, Berman, Kross Askren, Jonides, 2013
 Rohde, Burton, Stice, Bearman, 2006
 Norozi, Hasanzadeh, Khoshknab, 2012
 May, Moore, Flinchbaugh, Chang, 2012
Originally published at thedoctorweighsin.com on November 19, 2018.
First published June 2018, this article has been reviewed and updated for republication on April 11, 2020.