How to Start & Keep a Mental Health Journal – Tips for Students

When was the last time you wrote in your journal? Many people associate keeping a journal with their childhood and the old-fashioned cliche “Dear Diary…”. However, modern research has shown that journaling has numerous benefits for your mental and physical health. Writing in a diary can:

  • lower your anxiety,
  • improve your memory,
  • boost your immune system.
The picture contains a definition of mental health journaling.

If you happen to feel stuck, overwhelmed, or dissatisfied with your life, this is your sign that you need to start journaling now. In this article, we’ll discuss how journaling can be good for you — physically, mentally, and emotionally. Psychology Writing experts have also prepared some inspirational ideas for your mental health journal to overcome the fear of a blank page.

🤯 What Is a Mental Health Journal?

Mental health journaling is the act of keeping a record of your feelings, thoughts, insights, ideas, and more.

Your mental health journal may exist in many forms. It can be kept on paper or your computer, written or drawn. The idea behind the whole process is to make your thoughts clearer by getting them out.

Why Keep a Mental Health Journal?

For some people journaling can be challenging especially as building new habits takes time and effort. However, a mental health journal can help you in many ways.

The picture lists the benefits of keeping a mental health journal.

Keeping a mental health journal on a regular basis can:

Help manage stressJournaling can lower your stress levels by acting as an emotional release of your negative feelings and fears.
Reduce anxietyWhen your thoughts become overwhelming and make you anxious, writing them down makes it easier to reflect and see patterns.
Help identify triggersDaily journaling can help you detect possible triggers of panic attacks or flashes of anger.
Track symptoms of mental disordersJournaling can help prevent severe mental illnesses like depression or eating disorders by identifying their first signs.
Reveal negative thoughts and behaviorsWriting a diary allows you to break negative thought patterns by following them back to their source.

What Are the Benefits of Journaling for Students?

Student life is often associated with stress, emotional burnout, anxiety before an exam, and other life challenges. At this age, young people often feel like their emotions are overwhelming.

If you’re a student and can relate to this, we recommend considering the benefits of a mental health journal.

  1. It boosts your self-confidence by reducing anxiety.
  2. It inspires creativity and imagination.
  3. It improves emotional intelligence and socializing skills.
  4. It helps with prioritizing and achieving goals.
  5. It trains long-term memory.
  6. It develops critical thinking skills.
  7. It improves academic performance.
  8. It provides ideas with a coherent structure.
  9. It tracks improvement in living situations and study habits.
  10. It enhances writing skills.

🗒️ How to Start a Mental Health Journal

The only way to get all the benefits of a mental health journal is to be consistent. This means making journaling a daily habit rather than an occasional hobby.

We’ve created the following guide to ensure you can successfully incorporate journaling into your everyday routine.

The picture lists the steps that will help you start your mental health journal.

Step 1: Find a Safe Place & Format

Journaling is a powerful tool for self-care that exists in various formats. You can write down your thoughts:

Some people prefer art journaling, a practice of processing emotions through visual art. Others choose audio journals or voice diaries. Try experimenting with various journaling formats until you find the one that works best for you.

Find the perfect journaling spot that will motivate you to write more. It’s up to you where you feel the most comfortable: in your room, at Starbucks, at a local park, or in the library. Anywhere can become your ideal journaling spot if you feel relaxed and safe.

Step 2: Write Regularly

There are days when you don’t feel motivated or inspired to write. Developing a journaling routine will help you stay on track even during the hard days.

We recommend putting aside the same time every day to journal, for example, before going to bed.

Step 3: Reread Your Notes

It is essential to go back to your notes every once in a while. You may be surprised to learn how much you’ve changed over time!

Rereading your journal will enable you to track your progress and get valuable insights into how to overcome life challenges in the future.

Step 4: Avoid Judgments

Sometimes we experience judgment from family, friends, classmates, or coworkers. However, their opinion should not limit your self-care practices.

Remember that your diary is a judgment-free zone where you can allow yourself to write freely.

To improve your mental health, being honest with yourself while journaling is crucial.

Step 5: Improve Your Entries Daily

The first time you write in your journal, it can be challenging to put all your feelings into words. Your first journaling attempts might look like a stream of consciousness, and that’s alright. Don’t be too hard on yourself, let your emotions flow!

Learning how to reflect on your emotions and experiences while journaling takes time. To improve your daily entries, you can use journal prompts.

On days when you feel stuck, ask yourself:

  • Who do you trust the most and why?
  • What traits do you value the most in other people?
  • How do you see yourself in 10 years?

👌🏽 Tips for Effective Journaling

Effective journaling aims to help you meet your goals and improve your lifestyle. Follow these tips to get the most out of keeping a mental health journal:

Keep a list of your favorite journal promptsNext time you face writer’s block, use them.
Let other people inspire youA significant part of the journaling practice is using other people’s quotes. Pick the ones that speak to you.
Pretend that you are writing to somebodyMany people struggle with journaling because it feels like talking to yourself. Imagine you’re writing to someone you admire, someone who hurt you, your inner child, etc.
Keep your journal closeKeeping your journal close throughout the day is beneficial whenever you feel strong emotions.
Release your expectationsTry freewriting, and you might reveal feelings you didn’t expect.
Make a playlist for journalingHaving a special playlist will help you relax and prepare for journaling at any location.
Write what you wantAlthough you might use journal prompts, you don’t have to follow any specific structure.
Have a journaling buddyFind a person with whom you can journal to track each other’s progress and share motivation.
Keep your expectations realisticSometimes you might only write a single line not three pages, and that’s alright.
Try new spots for journalingSitting out on the terrace or in a park might give you fresh food for thought.

📔 What to Write in Your Mental Health Journal: Template & Ideas

There are various techniques for effective mental health journaling.

Examples of journaling methods include:

Many of these are available as printable templates online, which allows you to experiment with your entries until you find what works best for you.

We have also designed our own mental health journal template, which is especially helpful for beginners.

🔢 Mental Health Journal Template for Beginners

1. Mental Health Symptom Tracker

The first section of our template includes a list of emotional and physical symptoms:

  • Sadness.
  • Irritation.
  • Isolation.
  • Lack of interest in hobbies.
  • Anxiety.
  • Insomnia.
  • Headache.
  • Fatigue.

If these are not your typical symptoms, try making your own tracker based on the above. For 31 days, you can use this section to rate each symptom. We recommend using different colors, for example, red for severe symptoms, yellow for moderate, and green for minor.

2. Gratitude

In this section, we ask you to write at least five things you are grateful for daily. These can be really small things. Start by asking yourself: “What makes me feel good?”.

Today I feel grateful for:

  • A new TV show on Netflix, “The summer I turned pretty.”
  • Mom gave me a ride to college.
  • Great energy in my Philosophy class!
  • Not having to go to work tonight.
  • Olivia staying for a sleepover.

3. Daily Update

Collecting daily data can significantly contribute to your mood and productivity. Consider including the following in your update:

Things that went wellThings that bothered meWhat can I do about it?
  • I’ve finished my section for the history group project.
  • I drove myself to college for the first time.
  • I baked a cake for Lana’s Birthday.
  • Other drivers made me anxious.
  • My insomnia is getting worse.
  • Take more driving lessons and explore alternative quieter routes from home to college.
  • I don’t know…

4. Trigger Tracker

The following section aims at managing your triggers and reactions to certain events. When you experience an anxiety attack, you can write down the place and the time when it occurred, what factors led to it, and how you felt.

These boxes will help you analyze the situation and manage your emotions better.

What happenedOverall feelingsReaction
16th of August, 08:00.
I woke up and remembered that today was the one-year anniversary of my parents’ divorce.
  • Disappointment.
  • Loneliness.
  • Sadness.
  • Anger.
I couldn’t go to college and I stayed in bed crying.

5. List of Accomplishments

The last section of our template is dedicated to the things you feel proud of. On days when you feel useless, you can go back to your “I am proud of lists” and be reminded of all that you have achieved.

Today I am proud of:

  • Receiving a compliment from my classmate.
  • Making a tasty sandwich for lunch.
  • Being there for my friend when she needed me.
  • Participating in a class debate, even though public speaking makes me nervous.

🤸🏽 Best Mental Health Journaling Techniques

Some other journaling techniques that can greatly benefit your mental health are:

Brain dumpBrain-dumping is an easy technique that involves writing down every little thing swirling in your head to clear and organize your thoughts.
Mind mapA mind map is a visual representation of one central concept linked with related elements. A mind map can help you deal with even the most overwhelming feelings.
Feelings wheelA feelings wheel is a powerful tool for exploring your emotions. You start with the core one, put it into the center, and then identify more specific ones.
Unsent lettersWriting unsent letters is a form of self-care that encourages you to address someone you don’t feel like talking to directly or perhaps someone you lost.
A word a dayThis format needs you to characterize your day with one word to vent your feelings, let things go, and move on.

👀 30 Mental Health Journal Prompts

On days when you don’t know what to write about, try using journaling prompts as a starting point. Some ideas include:

  1. What do you appreciate the most about your personality?
  2. What values do you consider to be important in life?
  3. Who can you trust with your most painful feelings?
  4. How do you express your self-care?
  5. What do you fear the most?
  6. How do you like to spend time by yourself?
  7. Do your life goals reflect your desires?
  8. What three changes can improve your life?
  9. What events turned you into who you are today?
  10. What does love mean to you?
  11. What emotions do you find hardest to accept?
  12. What parts of your daily routine can cause you stress or sadness?
  13. Where do you feel the most comfortable and peaceful?
  14. Which aspects of your life are you most grateful for?
  15. What helps you feel focused and motivated?
  16. What do you find exciting about the future?
  17. What do you value most in relationships?
  18. What part of your workday do you most enjoy?
  19. When do you feel most at peace with yourself?
  20. When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
  21. What are the things in your home that are the most “you”?
  22. What are simple pleasures in your life you’re thankful for?
  23. If your best friend described you, what would they say?
  24. What emotions do you want to let go of?
  25. What is one past failure that you can now identify as a gift?
  26. How can you improve your self-care?
  27. What is your saddest memory?
  28. What advice would you give your younger self?
  29. What makes you feel fulfilled?
  30. What do you need right now?

Research shows that a mental health journal can help get your life back on track, whether you’re struggling with relationships, academic performance, future goals, or staying organized.

The best part about journaling is that you can start whenever you want. You can write in your notebook, in Google docs, on mobile apps, or do voice recordings. There are loads of printable templates available online for free. You’re the one who decides what format brings you the most joy!

This is your sign to start journaling today, to gain control of your emotions and improve your mental health. However, if you’ve been practicing mental health journaling for some time and are still struggling, we recommend seeking help from a professional.

🔗 References

  1. Journaling for Mental Health – Health Encyclopedia
  2. Mental Health Benefits of Journaling – WebMD
  3. How to keep a mental health journal – MHA Screening
  4. How to Keep a Mental Health Journal: 15 Steps (with Pictures)
  5. 64 Journaling Prompts for Self-Discovery | Psych Central
  6. 11 Gratitude Journal Prompts to Practice Daily – 2022