Mindful journaling is an emotion-focused practice of writing that allows you to reflect on the positive and negative aspects of your life. While traditional journaling invites you to explore your feelings and process events, mindful journaling encourages you to be especially aware of your current state of being, both physically and mentally.
Also called positive affect journaling (PAJ), a mindful journal helps you to better understand and process emotions. If you are one of the millions of Americans experiencing stress and anxiety at higher rates than ever before, learning how to journal for mindfulness may be the best low-cost way of supporting both your mental health and well-being.
What Is Mindful Journaling?
A mindful journal combines practices of mindfulness and expressive writing.
Mindfulness is the awareness of your internal states and surroundings, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). It simply involves paying attention to your body's physical sensations, and the sounds, smells, tastes, and textures that you are experiencing. Mindfulness may involve breathwork (such as rhythmic deep breathing) and quiet introspection. Practicing mindfulness is often incorporated into cognitive behavioral therapy programs, meditation, and gratitude practices.
Expressive writing is the practice of writing down your internal thoughts and feelings. It's a part of the creative writing paradigm discovered by Dr. James Pennebaker, which suggested that there is a strong link between creative writing and significant health benefits. However, even though several studies have found a relationship between expressive writing and improved health, more research is still needed to fully understand the benefit.
A traditional journaling practice may or may not include mindful awareness or expressive writing. People use journals for different reasons. For instance, you might keep a fitness journal to track workouts or a parenting journal to document milestones with your child as they grow up. A mindfulness journal is specifically designed to help you explore emotions and bodily sensations in order to process your internal dialogue without judgment.
Benefits of a Mindful Journal
Mindfulness, expressive writing, and mindful journaling have been shown to provide mental and physical health benefits.
Mental Health Benefits
In people experiencing anxiety, research suggests that mindful journaling may:
- Decrease overall mental distress
- Decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Improve self-perceived quality of life
- Increase self-perceived resilience
- Increase well-being
- Reduce stress
The same research that demonstrated potential health benefits of mindfulness journaling also suggested some physical health benefits, including:
- Better interpersonal relationships
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased inflammation in the body
- Faster wound healing
- Fewer physical symptoms of illness
- Increased self-care behaviors
Several studies have also found that mindful journaling may relieve symptoms for those experiencing chronic illness. These medical benefits include:
- Improving disease severity and cognition in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Improving psychological health of patients with fibromyalgia.
- Improving sleep, pain, and general physical and psychological health of patients with cancer.
- Reducing doctor visits and lower diastolic blood pressure for patients recovering from a heart attack.
- Reducing physical symptoms for arthritic conditions, asthma, and lupus.
How to Start Journaling For Mindfulness
After learning more about the wide variety of health benefits associated with mindful journaling, you may be wondering how you can incorporate the practice into your own life. Gather a couple of supplies, set a time and intention, and you can start journaling for mindfulness.
Find Your Journal
Before you can start your practice, you will need to find a journal to write in. A classic spiral notebook or one that you have decorated works well. You can also find different types of unlined sketchpads at your local art store that allow for more free expression. And you'll find mindfulness journals that you can purchase that provide a specific layout, such as bullet points for a gratitude list. But you don't have to spend money for your journaling practice to work. Find whatever notebook fits you best, and make it your designated mindfulness journal.
If you enjoy creative arts, put them to work in your journal. Make it your own by using colorful pens, markers, or even paint. There are many ways to explore your feelings. If writing isn't your best outlet, combine language with art to express yourself. You can even choose different methods to journal on different days to suit your needs.
Set a Time to Write
Find a time in your day that works with your schedule. It should be a time slot that you can consistently to your mindful journaling practice. You do not have to keep the time of day consistent in order to experience the benefits of mindfulness journaling, but maintaining a regular time slot makes it easier to return to the practice daily and incorporate the new habit into your life for the long term.
Explore Your Emotions
To start mindful journaling, allow yourself to dive into your emotions. Maybe there was a recent event that was stressful or upsetting that you would like to reflect on. Perhaps there are relationship issues that you need to resolve. Maybe you have been preparing for a life change and need to sort through the emotions that may occur.
Allow yourself to experience whatever feelings arise and write them down in your journal. It may feel unproductive to write down upsetting thoughts about past events, but the practice has a purpose. Pennebaker's creative writing paradigm was constructed by having people write openly about their greatest traumas and stressors. As long as you are honest and express your genuine feelings, you are on the right track.
When you start your mindful journaling practice, allow yourself to write about whatever thoughts and feelings arise without judgment. Your emotions have value whether you feel that they are "right" or "wrong." Simply allow yourself to feel them and acknowledge that they are there. Mindfulness journaling entries will vary from person to person based on the individual's unique thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
Mindful Journaling Tips
Use these tips to help yourself feel more comfortable as you settle in and start exploring.
Find Your Space
It can be helpful to establish a special space for you to visit daily for your journal practice. This should be a place where you feel comfortable, and that makes it easy for you to write. For example, a reading nook, a desk space, or a table outside may help you to feel inspired. Some people may prefer writing in a public place while others prefer privacy. Try different spaces as you develop your writing habit and select one that you find the most appealing.
Once you've found a place that works well, customize it to support your practice. If you like to journal at a table, set a candle out or a speaker to play inspiring music that. Some people set up their journaling area like a meditation space-with supportive pillows on the floor and incense. Try to define the space in some way so that when you enter the area your body feels a sense of calm, safety, and freedom to explore.
You'll probably find yourself staring at a blank page when you first begin. That's normal. But remember, you can write about anything in a mindfulness journal. Explore the prompts provided in the "My Mindfulness Journal" printable and include them in your journal for constant inspiration. Some helpful prompts on what to write about are:
- A current stressor you are facing
- Difficult memories that bring feelings of stress/sadness
- Gratitude you feel towards people, yourself, or events
- Memories that bring positive feelings to mind
- Physical sensations you are feeling in your body
- Recurring thoughts
Schedule Your Practice
People are more likely to experience the benefits of mindfulness journaling if they practice it consistently. Making something into a habit is no easy task, but it's not impossible. Set realistic writing goals for yourself and try and try keep your writing practice regular. Try different ways to make your practice more consistent.
- Allow yourself to write in bullet points if you can't dedicate a significant amount of time on a given day.
- Encourage friends/family to start a mindful journaling practice to find more support and keep each other accountable.
- Include your mindfulness practice in your morning or evening routines. For instance, keep your journal by your morning coffee cup or on your nightstand next to your bed.
- Start small with the amount of time you dedicate to the practice and gradually increase it over time.
Lastly, forgive yourself if your practice veers off track for a while. Simply pick up your journal when you're ready and start anew. Remember that your mindful journaling practice is a great way to reduce stress and improve both your mental and physical health. It can seem daunting to pick up a new habit and incorporate it into your schedule, but with a journal, pen, and time, you will be on your way to living a healthier and happier life.