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How to Use a Journal for Better Emotional Health

According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada, one in every four Canadians will develop at least one anxiety disorder in his or her lifetime. The pressures associated with our fast-paced society can take their toll on the best of us. Repeated exposure to moderate levels of stress can lead to the development of any anxiety-related disorder, such as panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as other psychological and physical ailments.

Most advertisements would have you believe that medication such as antidepressants are the only way to deal with anxiety. Medication does have its merit for certain conditions such as agoraphobia. Before the problem gets out of hand, however, there are simple ways to better manage your emotions and increase your psychological health.

One of these techniques involves writing a journal. Although this may seem a little surprising, keeping a journal can be a great way to increase your happiness. There are many benefits associated with keeping a journal. Here are five benefits that you might not have known:

  • Increased mindfulness
  • Increased emotional intelligence
  • Better memory and comprehension
  • Greater well-being
  • Improved immune system

Used properly, a journal can be an effective emotion management tool. Here are a few helpful guidelines:

Writing about positive experiences

The more positive emotions we can cultivate in our lives, the more our overall sense of well-being will increase. As our well-being increases, our moods get better, our energy levels rise, and even our immune systems get stronger. In a fast-paced world where stress is prevalent, the need to increase positive experiences grows exponentially.

Reliving a positive experience is a simple way to harness the benefits of increasing our well-being. When you write about these experiences, it is important to describe the events that led to the positive feelings. The trick is to try to relive the event, savor the positive emotions, and continue to feel its effects long after the event has passed.

Avoid analyzing the events that led to the emotions. This will reduce, if not cancel, the positiveness of the experience. The goal is to re-experience the pleasant feelings and emotions, not to question or analyze them.

Writing about negative experiences

Merely describing a negative event can make some individuals relive the same negative experience by focusing on the event. Doing so can lead to increasing and prolonging the psychological stress while decreasing their overall sense of well being. In a study by Philip M. Ullrich, M.A. and Susan K. Lutgendorf, Ph.D., subjects whose journals focused only on emotions reported greater negative emotional effects. Those who focused on both cognitions and emotions reported gaining awareness of positive benefits resulting from the negative experience they wrote about.

It is therefore very important to distinguish between positive and negative experiences while using a journal.

When writing about negative experiences and emotions, you must adopt an analytical approach rather than a descriptive one. By analyzing the situation that caused the negative emotions, we engage in a problem-solving cognitive process that reduces the intensity of the negative emotions associated with the event. Todd Kashdan, a positive psychology researcher, explains in his book Curious how using curiosity to gain insight from a certain negative experience or emotion can provide valuable learning information and lead to increased happiness.

The idea is to try to see what other factors could have contributed to the situation or its outcome. Dissect the situation and ask questions: What were the facts? What was the context? Could you, or anyone else involved have done anything differently? Play devil’s advocate with your thoughts as you write them down and you might manage to significantly reduce the intensity of the emotion while increasing your psychological and physical well-being.

Developing the habit of using a journal effectively is a great way to increase introspection, improve problem-solving skills, and help achieve an emotionally balanced lifestyle.

Journal photo available from Shutterstock

How to Use a Journal for Better Emotional Health

Ron Forte

Ron ForteRon Forte is a Positive Psychology Life Coach who lives and works in Montreal (Quebec). He teaches people about emotions management and zen living. One subset of his many clients is an interesting group: people on parole, learning proven methods to change their outcomes. He is currently writing a book about how positive psychology can make a life-changing difference in the lives of formerly violent offenders. For more information visit or follow him on Twitter or

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APA Reference
, R. (2018). How to Use a Journal for Better Emotional Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 18 Dec 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.