Beginning a Journaling Practice

By Kathryn O’Connell, LCSW

Someone, somewhere, whether it be your parent, teacher, or therapist, has probably suggested journaling to you to improve your mental health. Journaling can help someone work through difficult emotions, develop a mindfulness practice, and even boost confidence. Although the benefits of journaling are well known, starting to write can be intimidating! What will I say? Where will I end up? When will I have time? These unanswered questions can keep us from trying. So, how do you get going? I’ll share some ideas that motivated my journaling practice.

1. Set a time.
Maybe you are a morning person and your thoughts start streaming first thing when you wake up. It may be a peaceful way to organize your thoughts if you set aside time to journal in the morning. Maybe your thoughts won’t shut off at night and you find it difficult to sleep. You may find it helpful to settle your mind by reflecting on what happened throughout the day and how you handled things. Any time of day works, and it doesn’t have to be the same each day! Setting a time can just be a helpful way to form a habit. Another challenge could be any time you reach for your phone, grab a pen instead!

2. Use a prompt.
Sometimes free writing can feel a little overwhelming and chaotic. Using a prompt can give you a topic to focus your thoughts on. Using a prompt also gives you an opportunity to explore a topic you might otherwise not have thought of to write about. Prompts can be a useful way to learn what you enjoy writing about and what are relevant topics to explore.

3. Practice gratitude.
One of my favorite presents was a gratitude journal from my graduate school classmate. Every day for five years straight, I wrote one thing I was grateful for each day. This was a great experience because it made me realize that what I was grateful for did not have to be a major life event. I could be grateful for the sun shining or grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend. I could also look back to the year before and smile about what I was grateful for that year. No matter how uneventful or even tough the day was, there was something or someone to be grateful for and this was a great lesson to learn.

4. Be creative.
Journaling doesn’t have to be a structured activity. Writing letters to friends or family members can be therapeutic. Writing what you want to discuss with a friend or family member can also be a valuable way to organize your thoughts and express yourself appropriately in the moment. Keep a list of exciting things that happen throughout the year to reflect on. I have one list that I return to every New Year’s Eve to bring me joy. Try an art prompt to get your creative juices flowing. Make journaling your own, and see what works for you!

Kathryn O’Connell is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you are looking for support in finding solutions to enhance your overall wellness, contact Cobb Psychotherapy by calling 718-260-6042 or emailing, and see how therapy can help.

Elizabeth Cobb