11 Surprising Benefits Of Journaling

There's more to it than you might think.

Originally Published: 
Experts explain the many benefits of journaling that go beyond mental health.
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There’s a reason that the hashtag #journaling has racked up over 2.8 billion views on TikTok. There are so many benefits of journaling — and just as many different ways to do it. You can write about your day, do a thought dump, vent about your problems, or jot down things you’re grateful for. You might scribble with a pen, type in a notes app, or wax poetic in a 10-page word doc. However you choose to go about it, you can rest assured that journaling is good for you.

“Journaling is the process of making feelings and thoughts more tangible by putting them into physical form,” says social worker Jessica Hoeper, MSW, LISW. Basically, it’s a way to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper (or your phone). And like all self-care tools, the more you do it, the better you’ll feel. “The amount of time you write is not as important as how often you practice sitting down to do it,” Hoeper tells Bustle. She recommends journaling a few times a week, whenever feels right. But if you want to do it every day, or a little less often, that’s fine too.

An important thing to note? Don’t let the fear of “doing it wrong” hold you back from getting started. “We often have an expectation of what journaling should look like,” Hoeper says. You might worry about bad handwriting, grammar mistakes, or not knowing what to say — but because this is your journal, none of that matters.

If you still aren’t sure how to get started with the popular wellness practice, give free-writing a try. “Just let your pen hit the page and try not to censor or overthink what you're writing,” says Lindsey Pratt, LMHC, a psychotherapist in New York City specializing in relationships. Ready to give it a go? Here are all the benefits of journaling, as explained by the pros.

1. It Helps You Focus On The Positives


Jotting down a quick gratitude list is an easy way to start journaling, and a great way to help you focus on the positive aspects of your day. Even if things don’t seem so great at first glance, making a concerted effort to practice gratitude on a regular basis is a proven way to help you develop a sense of well-being and worth, says clinical psychologist John Y. Lee, Ph.D.

Lee recommends sitting down at the same time every day and identifying one thing you’re grateful for — even if it’s super small or seemingly mundane. “You can be grateful for the little things in life,” he tells Bustle, adding that showing gratitude for the small things can also prime you to notice —  and feel more grateful for — the big things.

2. It’s A Way To Understand Your Emotions

According to Katie Fracalanza, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, writing about your experiences — big and small, positive and negative — can help you understand how different situations make you feel. “The more you know yourself, the more you’ll know what to do to move toward your well-being,” she tells Bustle. “For example, you might notice that you often feel a bit jittery before getting together with friends, and sometimes even want to cancel. But after you meet with them, you tend to feel happy and connected. By observing patterns like this in a journal, you learn what feelings to expect in different situations, and how to move forward.”

3. Journaling Can Help You “Connect The Dots”

Similarly, journaling is also an ideal to start making sense of things, including all your scattered thoughts and tough decisions. “When you journal about feelings, an event, or your thoughts, it may not make sense in the moment, but you will start to see themes pop out over time,” Hoeper tells Bustle. “These themes help you connect the dots.”

Not only does it feel good to do a brain dump, where you write down everything and anything, but it’s also helpful to look at it all afterward to see if you learn anything. “Journaling is very reflective by nature,” Hoeper adds. “There is a saying that ‘hindsight is 20/20’, and even though journaling is not guaranteed to make all situations appear 20/20, it definitely helps bring greater clarity through the use of hindsight/reflection.”

4. It’s Very Grounding

There’s something very grounding about the practice of sitting down and writing. For starters, it's an extremely present process, mostly because it’s tough to multitask or think about other things when you’re focused on writing, says Pratt. “You're really being called to show up for yourself with focus and attention in that moment,” she tells Bustle. And this is something you can use to your advantage whenever you want to feel a little more steady.

While typing your thoughts could do the trick, experts say it’s often even better to physically write them all down. “[Journaling helps] by integrating thinking from just pure ‘thought’ — meaning in your mind — to more tangible thought, meaning it had to be processed through your mind and come out through physical movement of your hands,” Hoeper explains.

5. It Can Help You Manage Symptoms Of Anxiety & Depression


According to Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, a therapist and founder of Take Root Therapy, journaling is an excellent tool to help manage anxiety and depression. Not only does it give you a place to keep track of your moods and emotions on a daily basis, but it also provides an opportunity to engage in affirming self-talk. “By doing this you might come to better recognize your triggers and develop techniques to more effectively cope with them in the future,” Lurie says. A lot of good can come from seeing your worries and stressors written out on a page, too, as it can help you reassess what you need more (or less) of in your life.

6. It’s Cathartic

If you’re going through a tough time, writing about what’s happening, how you feel, and anything else you’d like to vent about can feel really good. “Journaling allows us to release painful thoughts and feelings, potentially providing catharsis and relief from anxiety, depression, grief, anger, and disconnection from others,” says licensed psychologist Lori L. Cangilla, Ph.D. Again, it’s a way to get it all out of your head and onto a piece of paper.

Journaling is also a nifty way to step outside the parts of your life that may feel “fixed” or rigid because of work, routines, and other commitments, says Dr. Monisha Bhanote, MD, FCAP, ABIOM, CCMS, YMTS, founder and CEO of Holistic Wellbeing Collective. “Journaling is a useful ‘freedom tool’ because there is an open space where no one is going to judge us or ask us to behave in a certain way,” she tells Bustle. “We get to decide how we show up and that is empowering.”

This is why people are often protective of their journals or diaries. If you’re holding back because you’re worried someone might read your thoughts, consider password protecting your journal in a word document, or storing your journal where you know it won’t be discovered, suggests Cangilla. That way you can really let loose and reap the most benefits.

7. It Can Help You Get Better Sleep

Surprisingly enough, writing out what’s on your mind can help you get quality ZZZs, too. “People often have trouble falling and staying asleep at night due to racing thoughts and processing what has happened in their day,” says health psychologist Dr. Julia Kogan, PsyD, which is why she suggests taking a moment before bed to get your thoughts out, especially the ones that are stressful. “Setting a time for worry-management, specifically, can reduce insomnia by giving [you] an outlet to process [your] thoughts so when it is time to sleep, the mind is calm and relaxed,” she says.

8. It Gives You Perspective

For some, a big part of journaling is the act of going back and re-reading old entries as a way to practice self-compassion — and to see how far they’ve come. According to Pratt, this can feel really good because humans have a tendency to “soften” themselves over time and once they come out of a tough situation. “You may find yourself reading about things you were struggling with months or years prior and have a new level of appreciation for what you've gone through,” she says. On the flip side, journaling is a great way to record and recall great memories.

9. It Gets Your Creative Juices Flowing

Journaling, however you go about it, is a surefire way to add a little more creativity to your day, says psychotherapist Dr. Heather Browne. You can draw, write poems, jot down funny observations, or workshop some ideas. “By letting yourself play, it brings out your artistic, playful, freer side,” Browne tells Bustle.

The actual act of journaling can be part of the creative process, too. Ask yourself what kind of pens you’d like to write with, choose your ideal notebook, and don’t hold back from experimenting. Let go of the idea that it has to be perfect, and think of it as a crafty experiment. “This is yet another way for you to express yourself creatively,” says Bhanote.

10. It Improves Relationships


Consistently journaling helps bring order to your thoughts, and in turn that translates to those around you. “When you journal, you are connecting your own thoughts and emotions together, and in doing so you’re practicing how to connect with others,” says Kevin Coleman, LMFT-A, a licensed marriage and family therapist associate and founder of Connected Therapy Practice. One reason? When someone asks “how are you” you’ll have more to offer the conversation than you did before your journaled, Coleman says.

It’s also a great place to vent about daily annoyances that you otherwise might take out on a close friend or partner. And, to go back to gratitude, journaling about the people in your life is a way to make sure you’re appreciating them.

11. It’s A Form Of Self-Care

If nothing else, think of journaling as a form of self-care, Browne says. Just like taking a warm shower, going for a walk, cooking your favorite food, or talking to a friend, writing down your thoughts is a way to slow down, take a break, process thoughts — and take good care of yourself.

Studies referenced:

Arigo, D. 2011. The benefits of expressive writing on sleep difficulty and appearance concerns for college women. Psychol Health. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2011.558196.

Wong, YJ. 2018. Does gratitude writing improve the mental health of psychotherapy clients? Evidence from a randomized controlled trial. Psychother Res. doi: 10.1080/10503307.2016.1169332.


Jessica Hoeper, MSW, LISW, social worker

John Y. Lee, PhD, clinical psychologist

Katie Fracalanza, PhD, clinical assistant professor

Lindsey Pratt, LMHC, psychotherapist

Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist

Lori L. Cangilla, PhD, licensed psychologist

Dr. Monisha Bhanote, MD, FCAP, ABIOM, CCMS, YMTS, founder and CEO of Holistic Wellbeing Collective

Dr. Julia Kogan, PsyD, health psychologist

Dr. Heather Browne, psychotherapist

Kevin Coleman, LMFT-A, licensed marriage and family therapist associate

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