Journaling can be a useful tool for working through your emotions and feelings. Using prompts can make it easier.
If you’ve tried writing down your thoughts and feelings, you probably know it’s not always easy to get started. But using the right journal prompts can help you get the ball rolling.
Psychotherapist and licensed mental health counselor Haley Neidich explains that journaling is a low-commitment and easily accessible tool for emotional management.
The simple act of writing things down can help you work through many emotional challenges that may be holding you back. Journaling can be a great tool for your emotional health, particularly if you incorporate it into your daily routine.
“Having a private space to let out and explore your inner world can help you to create perspective in your life and clarity around your needs,” says Neidich.
But if a blank page feels daunting, you may find it helpful to use prompts.
What’s a journal prompt?
A journal prompt is a starting point. It can be a phrase, a question, or an idea you start building on.
“When you’re experiencing heightened emotions,” says Neidich, “it is very challenging to know where the entry point is for processing these feelings, and free-write journaling can actually activate the anxiety further.”
Journal prompts help to provide a focal point for writing. They can also help make the practice of journaling for emotional health feel safer and secure, says Neidich.
You can reuse these writing prompts for as long as you feel you need to, she adds. If you return to the same answers each time, you may want to move on to other prompts.
You may also consider asking yourself why you are fixated on a particular prompt, which may help you open up further.
Identifying what you’re feeling is an integral part of nurturing emotional awareness.
If you’re unsure whether you’re feeling anger, sadness, or disappointment, working with prompts can help you uncover these emotions as well as process them.
Some people may often experience emotional challenges because they could mask how they’re feeling.
“When we can look at it directly and sit with it, the distress will typically diminish,” Neidich adds.
Getting to the root of what you’re feeling can also help you better understand these emotions and how they affect you.
Neidich recommends these starting journal prompts for processing feelings:
- Which emotion(s) am I trying to avoid right now?
- Why am I trying to hide from this emotion?
- What does this emotion need from me?
- What is preventing me from addressing this feeling?
If you’re often hard on yourself, even when the people around you are supportive, you may benefit from working on self-compassion.
Self-judgment that occurs because of cognitive distortions can make being kind to yourself difficult. Cognitive distortions are filtered thoughts that make things look more negative.
Neidich suggests using the following writing prompts to work on self-compassion:
- What purpose is being hard on myself serving?
- What would it take for me to be kinder to myself in this moment?
- What would it sound like if I spoke to myself the way I would to a small child?
“These prompts are typically most effective when each question is answered sequentially,” says Neidich. She adds that the last prompt is one of the most “powerful exercises available.”
As you start your journaling exercises, try to remember that self-compassion starts with not putting yourself down.
“A breakup is the perfect time to get clear on your desires and needs when it comes to future relationships,” says Neidich. She suggests using this time to look inward and hone in on your values and desires.
The following prompts may help guide you while overcoming heartbreak:
- What have I learned (about myself, others, relationships, life) from this relationship or loss?
- What has this relationship taught me about what I do and do not want in a life partner?
Attachment theory, a concept conceived by psychiatrist John Bowlby, says that infants form different bonds with their primary caregivers. The quality of these bonds depends on the readiness of the caregiver to respond to the baby’s needs.
Children who develop secure attachments typically have had their needs met most of the time. They often grow into adults capable of forming and nurturing healthy relationships.
Those children who have had inconsistent responses to their needs are more likely to develop anxious bonds with others.
Research from 2016 suggests that those who don’t form secure emotional bonds with their caregivers may experience challenges with adult relationships.
If you have difficulty with emotional security in your relationships, Neidich suggests that it may be helpful to work on the following journal prompts with your partner:
- What boundaries do I need to set in this relationship to feel safe and secure?
- What are my needs in this relationship?
- What do I need from my partner to have them met?
“Knowing what each other’s needs are and figuring out how and whether you are able to meet those needs can establish an incredibly strong partnership and help avoid resentment and emotional pain,” says Neidich.
Journaling is a helpful tool to process your feelings and work on your emotional health.
Prompts can make journaling more approachable and effective. Using them regularly can help you explore how you feel and how to use these emotions to build on your emotional well-being.
Strong emotions may come out of journaling exercises. This is why it’s advisable to seek the support of a mental health professional who can help you develop coping skills to better manage emotions.