June 18, 2020

Dear Diary… Rethinking the value of journaling

Keeping a journal or journaling is a free writing practice intended solely for personal benefit. Once marketed as a teenage activity, journaling is now considered an effective tool at all ages to help manage and counteract stress, process difficult emotions, improve cognitive function and even result in better physiological health. 1,2

So how does one start journaling? PsychCentral outlines five easy steps.

  • Buy a Journal: As with most things, the type of book you choose to record your thoughts and feelings will be a reflection of you, your needs and your style. You may opt to purchase a functional notebook or a blank page book from a local bookstore.  
  • Set Aside Time: Pick a time of day to commit 20 minutes to writing. Or start with 5 to 10 minutes initially until it becomes embedded in your daily routine. Like yoga or meditation, journaling is a practice. 
  • Begin Writing: Your journal is not an academic paper or a report for your boss. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling, or over think what you are writing. Write about what’s been going well in your life, what challenges you are facing, where you were five years ago, or where you want to be in five years. 
  • Write about Thoughts and Feelings: Your journal is a record of your state-of-mind, your thoughts and feelings. You may be tempted to use your journal to vent or to list the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” things in your life. Instead, try to write about what you are really thinking and feeling at the time and why. Use your journal to find the lessons learned from what you have experienced, explore solutions and develop strategies to overcome challenges.  
  • Keep your Journal Private: Your journal is yours alone. Keep it in a safe, secure place or in a password protected file on your personal computer. This is an important aspect of journaling because if you know no one else will read it, you’re more likely to be honest about what you are thinking and feeling.

One study found that those who wrote about both their emotions and cognitions developed greater self-awareness than those who wrote only about their emotions3. This emphasizes the fact that to get the most from your journal, recording both thoughts and emotions and processing what has happened or is happening to you is important.


The Well-being Task Force
Faculty of Medicine


  1. 83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress: https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-journaling/
  2. How to Begin Journaling for Stress Relief: https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-to-begin-journaling-for-stress-relief/
  3. Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1207/S15324796ABM2403_10