Keeping a diary is nothing new. From Samuel Pepys to Alan Bennett, there are plenty of famous examples. However, it’s something that many of us seem to abandon as we leave our teenage years behind. One study found that just 9% of 45-54-year-olds regularly keep a diary, compared to 37% of 18-24-year-olds.

But it turns out that this is a habit that can have real mental health benefits. Now more commonly known as ‘journalling’ in well-being circles, keeping a diary has been shown by various studies to reduce stress and anxiety, and even boost the immune system.

How does it work? Well, if we write down our thoughts and feelings, we can understand them more clearly. That should help us to gain control over our emotions – and improve our well-being.

According to social psychologist James Pennebaker, “Writing helps us focus and organise the experience”. This means that if we experience something negative or stressful, writing down how we feel about the situation can help us better connect with our thoughts to determine whether they’re true or false.

How to keep a journal for well-being

It’s important to note that everyone thinks and organises their thoughts differently, so there is no one size fits all. For some, writing in a stream of consciousness may feel
therapeutic. For others, it would be beneficial to create bullet-pointed lists –
some may even prefer to doodle! Take time to find the technique that works for you.

Journalling prompts

If you are someone who is tempted to give journaling a go but doesn’t know where to start, here are some simple but effective prompts to try:

  • Write down three things you are grateful for – practising gratitude in itself can have mental health benefits
  • Write down your personal or career goals
  • Describe yourself
  • What can you do today to make you feel great?
  • Diarise your day
  • Challenge yourself to write whatever comes to your mind

What methods of journalling are there?

There are many different ways you can record your thoughts and feelings. In fact, not all of them involve writing, if that’s not something that resonates with you. Different methods of journalling include:

  • Writing in a paper diary or notebook
  • Using a notes app on your phone
  • Audio journalling – recording your thoughts aloud
  • Taking a photo every day
  • Drawing pictures

Whatever method you choose, it can be beneficial and encouraging to make time to look back on your past journaling and see how far you’ve come.

Looking for more ways to boost your well-being? Check out our guide to breathwork.

Words by Carli Barlow