For some, thinking about “journal writing” conjures up early memories of diaries filled with musings over your latest crush or middle school gossip. However, journaling can involve much more than simply documenting your life, especially if you go into writing with a bit of direction. Writing in a journal can be a powerful tool to help you work through difficult emotions, especially during a stressful time.
“When you journal about how you’re feeling, it transitions your emotional processing away from the fast, reactionary pathway and into the slow, analytical pathway,” says licensed clinical psychologist Abigail S. Hardin, Ph.D. “The result is that you can make reasoned choices about your responses rather than reacting impulsively.”
If you’re going through a hard time and want to try journaling, try one of these five, simple prompts to kickstart your writing.
What emotions am I feeling?
“When we’re overwhelmed with stress, it’s helpful to check in with ourselves and name any emotions we might be feeling so that we know what emotions to take care of,” says psychotherapist William Chum, LMHC. You’ll want to be as specific as possible when it comes to pinpointing what you’re feeling. “For example, if we’re also feeling sad or scared, it’d be helpful to name and recognize that emotion so we can do the things we know help us feel less sad or less scared,” he says.
What relationships in my life have actually been strengthened from this experience?
Reflect on what relationships in your life are important to you right now, as well as if any new connections have formed or old connections have strengthened because of this situation — some may surprise you. “Research shows that focusing on deepening relationships with others in the face of stressful events can help with coping and reduce risk of mental health concerns long-term,” says Hardin.
What are the three things that I’m grateful for?
Even if there’s a lot going on that you are not grateful for, list three things in your life for which you do feel gratitude. “Stressful situations can cause us to focus exclusively on what is going wrong to such a degree that we lose sight of what we still have, like relationships, faith, family, and even small luxuries like enjoying a cup of coffee,” says Hardin. “Gratitude helps us ‘zoom out’ of our hyperfocus on the negative experience and see what’s really there in life, both good and bad.”
What are your personal strengths that you have been relying on?
Write about the ways you are using these strengths effectively, right now. Have you noticed any new strengths in yourself? “Sometimes during stressful times, we can feel — mistakenly — that we don’t have the inner strength to get through a challenging time,” says Hardin. “I call this the ‘I can’t even’ syndrome. By re-focusing on strengths, we can build up our confidence to handle challenges.”
What do I like to do for self-care?
Reflect on what you like to do for yourself, whether you used to do it and you stopped or want to try something new. “Writing it down is a way to hold yourself accountable since you are putting your desire on paper,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Regine Muradian. “We tend to neglect this part of our lives, as we are tending to others or feel that taking care of ourselves is not a current priority.”