Feature Image by My Life Journal

When people think of self-care, they imagine yoga, face-masks, and phone calls with close friends. But journaling is one habit that tends to get overlooked, despite its many benefits such as reducing stress, anxiety, and depression and even bolstering physical health. Even if you’re not a writer, taking the pen to paper can help you improve your mental well-being.

“Journaling allows you to do a ‘brain dump’ without having to analyze it, judge it, or even find a solution to the problems that you are facing,” says therapist and mindfulness and meditation teacher Joree Rose. “Writing allows you to process feelings and emotions, observe yourself with compassion, not judgment, and allows you space to reframe your experiences.”

If you’re someone who’s not used to journaling, it may be intimidating to start. But don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you. Here are five journaling prompts that can help boost your mental health.

Free association
Write down your train of thoughts by free-associating what you are thinking. “This helps you to practice observing your thoughts, rather than believing them as your truth,” says Rose. “Then you can create space between you and your thoughts, allowing you to see them for what they are, and also how to choose a different response to them.” Plus, it feels good to let out all your thoughts and feelings swirling inside, even if you don’t plan to do anything with them.

“What am I grateful for?”
Make a list of anything you are grateful for or that you view as a blessing. “We can all become focused on what we do not have in life,” says psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly. “We can then tend to have a poverty mentality that focuses on the negative — on what we feel we lack. When we journal about our blessings, that which we are grateful for, we create a positive attitude that focuses on abundance and joy.”

Write a letter to yourself
“I guide my clients my clients in a series of letter-writing prompts to heal their inner child or their wounded younger self,” says Rose. Begin with a love letter to your younger self. Write to yourself at a time that you were experiencing hardship or pain, and be kind and loving with your approach to yourself. “Then write a letter of anger to the person that may have inflicted the pain on you, such as a parent who was not emotionally available for you,” says Rose. “After expressing anger towards that person, write another letter to that same person, coming from a place of compassion; be curious about what must have been going on with them at the time that prevented them from being there for you.” Lastly, write a letter of gratitude to that same person for what you learned from the pain of the experience. “This process is very healing and can release feelings of anger and resentment by reframing it into compassion and gratitude,” says Rose.

“What do I want to let go of in my life?”
“Sometimes we are held by in life by resentments, fears, guilt, and old baggage,” says Manly. “This prompt allows for a gentle purging of thoughts, behaviors, and issues that, if released, can make space for new beginnings.” Write down any negative thoughts you have that hold you back, and try to set them aside and replace them with more constructive thoughts.

“What are your goals in one, five, and 10 years?”
Many of us have dreams and ideas of what we want our life to look like, but giving yourself something specific to focus your attention and energy on can help to provide a roadmap of how you can get there. “Journaling activates your reticular activation system in your brain, which is the part of your brain that filters out excess information and brings what was in the background into the foreground,” says Rose.

xx, The FabFitFun Team