Journaling for Mental Health: Benefits, Methods, and How to Start

Katie Koschalk
Katie Koschalk

Katie Koschalk is a California-based health and wellness writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and certified personal trainer, with a deep understanding of mindfulness and mind-body practices.

October 14, 2023

Whether you’re living with a mental health condition, navigating a significant life change, or just trying to manage everyday stress, journaling can be an invaluable tool. Not only is it rooted in tradition, but its mental health benefits also have the stamp of scientific validation.

 But why does jotting down your thoughts and feelings make such a difference? In this article, we’ll unpack the science behind journaling’s benefits for mental health, explore the advantages of journaling, and share some tips to help you dive in. Here’s what you need to know. 

Key Takeaways icon

Key Takeaways

  • Journaling has been a revered tool for self-reflection and emotional processing for generations.
  • Journaling has been scientifically linked with reduced stress and fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
  • There are numerous journaling techniques, from gratitude journaling to free writing, that cater to diverse mental health needs.
  • Digital platforms, like Rosebud, can enhance the journaling experience with AI-powered prompts and insights.

What Is Journaling? 

Journaling is the practice of recording thoughts, feelings, experiences, and reflections on a consistent basis. For many, it serves as both a historical record and a therapeutic exercise, providing clarity and perspective on life’s challenges and triumphs.

While the traditional method of journaling using pen and paper continues to be cherished for its tactile, hands-on experience, modern digital journaling apps like Rosebud have bridged the gap between the analog and digital worlds.

More than just a digital diary, Rosebud acts as an astute mentor on your personal growth journey. As you pour out your thoughts, the app uses its advanced artificial intelligence to draw out pivotal insights, guiding you to discern actionable steps to enhance your well-being and overall life quality. 

Learn more about the basics of journaling here. 

Mental Health Benefits of Journaling

Journaling is more than just a record-keeping exercise. It’s a transformative process with the potential for deep-rooted therapeutic effects. Let’s dive into the ways this simple practice can bolster mental well-being. 

#1: Reducing Stress

Engaging in journaling can be a potent tool in managing and alleviating stress. One study looked into the effects of journaling on stress levels by asking participants to write about stressful events[1]. Even with just two 15-minute sessions per week, participants exhibited reduced feelings of distress and hostility. This held true even for those who were new to journaling or who felt uncomfortable during the writing process. 

#2: Managing Anxiety 

While it’s natural to feel anxious from time to time, this emotion can become overwhelming and disruptive for many. Those battling anxiety disorders frequently face relentless worry and intrusive thoughts. Journaling offers an effective avenue to manage this pattern of rumination, providing a safe outlet to express and process these anxious feelings.

In one study, participants who spent just 15 minutes journaling about positive aspects of their lives three times a week experienced reduced anxiety and increased feelings of resilience[2].

#3: Coping with Depression 

Navigating depression can often feel like an uphill battle, making even the simplest tasks seem monumental. 

While treating depression requires a multi-dimensional approach, fostering a sense of gratitude is one thing that might help. In fact, studies have highlighted a significant link between expressions of gratitude and lower levels of depressin[3]. Writing down a few things you’re grateful for each day could be a good place to start.

Interestingly, another study found that writing about difficult emotions may also help those with depression[4]. Participants living with major depressive disorder (MDD) were asked to write about emotional events or non-emotional daily events. They engaged in this writing repeatedly over several days. Those who performed the emotional writing experienced significantly decreased symptoms of depression, while those who wrote about non-emotional things didn’t. 

#4: Recovering from Trauma 

For individuals living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or symptoms stemming from trauma, processing the distressing event is often beneficial. While psychotherapy is the most effective intervention, research has found that writing about traumatic or stressful experiences can also help symptoms of PTSD[5].

#5: Managing Grief 

Navigating the turbulent waters of grief can be an overwhelming journey. Journaling provides a safe harbor to anchor your emotions, helping you process the waves of sadness, anger, and longing. 

By putting pen to paper, or typing out your thoughts, you create a space for reflection and understanding. This practice doesn't erase the pain, but as research shows, can offer clarity and a pathway towards acceptance[6].

#6: Improving Self-Esteem 

Boosting self-esteem is more than just a pursuit of confidence. It's about fostering a genuine, kind relationship with oneself. Journaling can serve as a mirror, reflecting back both your strengths and areas for growth.

By documenting achievements, expressing gratitude for your unique traits, and confronting self-doubt through introspection, you can gradually rewire your internal narratives. Over time, consistently acknowledging and celebrating your worth can help fortify a positive self-image.

#7: Enhancing Mindfulness 

Cultivating mindfulness means being present, attentive, and engaged in the current moment, without judgment. Journaling facilitates this by anchoring the mind to the act of writing, allowing you to momentarily set aside the noise of daily life and hone in on your immediate thoughts and feelings.

As you document your experiences, you become more attuned to your emotional and mental states, deepening your awareness of the present. Over time, this consistent practice can lead to heightened mindfulness, even outside of the journaling space.

Types of Journaling for Mental Health 

For ages, journaling has served as a trusted companion for those seeking introspection and a means to articulate emotions. As mental health awareness has grown, tailored journaling techniques have been developed to maximize its therapeutic benefits. Below, we explore some of these popular methods, each offering unique pathways to mental well-being:

#1: Gratitude Journaling 

Our brains have developed a tendency to prioritize negative stimuli. This can be traced back to our prehistoric ancestors, who needed to be acutely aware of potential threats (i.e. a saber-toothed tiger running through their camp) to ensure their survival[7].

While this predisposition was crucial for survival in ancient times, in our modern world, it can result in disproportionate focus on negative events, leading to feelings of distress, sadness, or anxiety. 

Gratitude journaling acts as a counterbalance to this inclination. Reflecting on and documenting the moments, people, things, or experiences you’re thankful for helps recalibrate your focus towards the positive aspects of life, which fosters a brighter, more balanced mindset. 

🌹Rosebud offers an interactive, guided gratitude journal to help you pause, reflect, and acknowledge the positive moments in your day.

#2: Expressive Writing 

Expressive writing is akin to a deep emotional purge. It encourages you to delve into your deepest emotions, biggest stressors, and significant life experiences without restraint. This raw and unbridled exploration can serve as a release, allowing buried feelings to surface and be acknowledged. Giving these emotions a voice can be the first step toward understanding, acceptance, and healing.

🌹Rosebud’s platform offers guided prompts and a safe space for such expressive writing, ensuring that this cathartic process is both structured and supported, maximizing its therapeutic benefits.

#3: Prompt Journaling 

Sometimes, the vast expanse of a blank page can be daunting. This is where prompt journaling comes in. With guided questions or topics, it offers a starting point, directing introspection and ensuring meaningful reflection. This structure can be especially beneficial for those new to journaling or facing specific challenges they wish to address. 

🌹Rosebud uses AI-generated prompts to guide and tailor the journaling experience to each individual's unique needs. 

#4: Free Writing

Free writing, or “stream of consciousness journaling,” is an invitation to let the mind wander and words flow without boundaries. Whether they form coherent sentences or fragmented thoughts, the objective is unobstructed emotional expression. 

This form of journaling can unveil hidden feelings, insights, or ideas that might remain suppressed under structured thinking. It’s both a journey of discovery and a therapeutic release.

🌹With Rosebud’s advanced capabilities, not only can you engage in free writing, but the platform also analyzes your journal entries to offer insights, helping you gain a deeper understanding of your thoughts and emotions.

#5: Reframing Negative Thoughts 

Navigating negative thoughts can be challenging, often clouding our perspective and influencing our emotional well-being. A focused approach to journaling can assist in altering these patterns. Enter the “Reframing Negative Thoughts” technique.

🌹This can be done using Rosebud’s AI-powered “Reframing Negative Thoughts” guided journal, which integrates the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This tool aids you in confronting, challenging, and reshaping challenging thoughts, fostering a healthier mindset and improved emotional resilience.

How to Start Journaling for Mental Health 

Starting a journaling practice for mental health can be transformative. Whether you’re new to the process or revisiting it, here’s a step-by-step guide to help you begin your journaling journey:

  • Choose Your Medium: Decide if you prefer traditional pen and paper or a digital platform. Some people prefer the tactile experience of writing on paper, while others find they get more out of digital journaling apps like Rosebud, which offer modern tech benefits like AI-powered insights.
  • Set Aside Time: Dedicate a specific time each day for journaling. Whether it’s morning reflections or evening recaps, consistency is key.
  • Find a Calming Space: Find a quiet, comfortable spot where you can journal without distractions. This could be a cozy corner of your home, a local park, or even a coffee shop.
  • Start with a Prompt: If you’re unsure what to write, start with a journaling prompt. Rosebud offers a range of tailored journaling prompts designed to initiate reflective thinking. Leveraging such prompts can ease you into the journaling process.
  • Embrace Honesty: Your journal is a safe space. Be candid with your feelings and thoughts. Remember, it’s for your eyes only unless you choose to share.
  • Reflect Regularly: Make it a habit to periodically review your past entries. This not only offers insights into your personal growth and recurring patterns, but also highlights areas of your life that may need attention. Rosebud can enhance this reflection process by providing weekly insights based on your entries, giving you a deeper understanding and perspective on your journaling journey.
  • Incorporate Different Techniques: As you grow more comfortable with journaling, try different methods like gratitude journaling, free writing, or expressive writing, each offering unique mental health benefits.
  • Stay Patient and Kind: There may be days you struggle with what to write or confront challenging emotions. That’s okay. Be gentle with yourself. The process is more about the journey than the destination.

FAQs About Journaling for Mental Health

Here are some common questions about journaling for mental health: 

Yes, journaling has been scientifically linked with reduced stress and fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. It serves as a tool for self-reflection, problem-solving, and emotional release.

The frequency varies by individual preference, but many experts recommend journaling for 15 to 20 minutes at least a few times a week. If you can work up to journaling for 15 to 20 minutes daily, that’s ideal. Consistency is key, so find a routine that feels sustainable for you.

Research has shown that writing about a past failure, especially a profoundly stressful one, influenced neural activity in the mid-cingulate cortex[8]. This brain region plays a pivotal role in processing negative emotions.

Another form of journaling, gratitude journaling, may also help improve mental health by helping your mind focus more on the positive things in your life, rather than the negative.

Yes, many psychologists and therapists recommend journaling as a complementary tool to therapy. It can be a way for individuals to process emotions, reflect on their experiences, and track their mental health progress.

Yes, journaling can be an effective way to process and organize overwhelming thoughts. By transferring these thoughts onto paper or a digital platform, individuals can gain perspective, identify patterns, and find solutions.

Journaling is a valuable self-help tool, but it's not a replacement for therapy. While it offers many benefits, therapy provides professional guidance, tailored interventions, and a structured environment for addressing deeper psychological issues. Both can be complementary in supporting mental well-being.

Prioritize Your Mental Health with Journaling  

The journey of improving one’s mental well-being is deeply personal, yet it’s a path that can be enriched with the right tools. Journaling, especially with the guidance and insights of platforms like Rosebud, can be a powerful partner for better mental health. 

It’s a low-risk approach that’s easy to incorporate into most daily routines. And with a wealth of evidence supporting its benefits, there’s a real possibility that it could make a genuine difference. 

If you’re curious to explore the therapeutic potential of journaling further, there’s no better time than now. Dive into the world of self-awareness and introspection by trying Rosebud for free. Your mind, heart, and future self will thank you.  


  1. Chan, K. M., & Horneffer, K. (2006). Emotional expression and psychological symptoms: A comparison of writing and drawing. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 33(1), 26–36.
  2. Smyth, J. M., Johnson, J. A., Auer, B. J., Lehman, E., Talamo, G., & Sciamanna, C. N. (2018). Online positive affect journaling in the improvement of mental distress and well-being in general medical patients with elevated anxiety symptoms: A preliminary randomized controlled trial. JMIR Mental Health, 5(4).
  3. Jo A, I., John M, M., & Nicola S, S. (2021). The association between gratitude and depression: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Depression and Anxiety, 4(1).
  4. Krpan, K. M., Kross, E., Berman, M. G., Deldin, P. J., Askren, M. K., & Jonides, J. (2013). An everyday activity as a treatment for depression: The benefits of expressive writing for people diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 150(3), 1148–1151.
  5. Sloan, D. M., Sawyer, A. T., Lowmaster, S. E., Wernick, J., & Marx, B. P. (2015). Efficacy of narrative writing as an intervention for PTSD: Does the evidence support its use? Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 45(4), 215–225.
  6. Furnes, B., & Dysvik, E. (2010). A systematic writing program as a tool in the grief process: Part 1. Patient Preference and Adherence, 425.
  7. Cacioppo, J. T., Cacioppo, S., & Gollan, J. K. (2014). The negativity bias: Conceptualization, quantification, and individual differences. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37(3), 309–310.
  8. DiMenichi, B. C., Ceceli, A. O., Bhanji, J. P., & Tricomi, E. (2019). Effects of expressive writing on neural processing during learning. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 13.

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