Journaling is pouring your thoughts, feelings, and emotions on a paper, so you can observe and understand them better. It can help you manage symptoms of depression.
Journaling for depression can help you log your thoughts and review how far you’ve come, especially on days you feel the worst, explains Jason Phillips, a licensed clinical social worker in Michigan.
If you aren’t sure where to start, having a list of journal prompts can help. Journal prompts are questions or statements on a given topic that can make it easier for you to write about how you feel and identify the next steps.
Recording your insights in your journal can be a cathartic and relieving experience. It can be a great reminder about all the positive progress you’ve made, says Phillips, who’s also a certified life coach.
“Journaling allows you to write down your thoughts and feelings without judgment from others or yourself,” he says. It can also help unburden you of emotions that might be impacting energy levels or sleep patterns.
Journal prompts for depression don’t have to involve the blunt expression of your feelings. They can be about getting through the moment or finding comfort during times of negative thinking.
Dr. Elizabeth Jarquin, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Miami, says journals are a way to get any thoughts down on paper — and then seeing where those thoughts take you.
She suggests these general journal prompts when you’re trying to manage symptoms of depression:
- What are my goals for the day?
- What things made me happy today?
- What are 3 things I’m grateful for today?
- List all of today’s achievements, no matter how small.
- What coping mechanisms did I practice today? (Or, what things did I do that made me feel better?)
- Did I practice any self-care today? If so, what was it? If not, why didn’t I?
- List 3 self-care actions I’d like to add to my routine this week.
- What things or events activate or worsen my depression symptoms?
- What helps me cope when I encounter these things or events?
- What do I feel are consistent happiness activators in my life? (Things that always make me feel good)
- Describe my ideal self. How do I get closer to that version of myself?
- If I could describe my “happy place,” what would it look like?
- Complete a mindfulness or relaxation practice and write about the experience.
Formal symptoms of depression
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), major depressive disorder or clinical depression refers to the presence of five or more of the following symptoms:
- depressed mood for the majority of the day, almost every day: hopelessness, sadness, emptiness
- decreased ability to enjoy or lower interest in activities, almost every day
- significant changes in weight
- sleeping too much or too little
- noticeable increase or decrease in physical and cognitive reactions related to your mood: pacing around, talking rapidly, slowed speech, poor memory
- persistent fatigue or energy loss
- difficult time concentrating on a task
- recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation
These symptoms must be present during a 2-week period or longer, with at least one of the symptoms being low mood or loss of interest or pleasure.
Although it’s not always present, sadness is one of the most common symptoms of depression.
Tacha Fletcher, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in the treatment of depression, from Rego Park, New York, explains journaling can help re-wire the brain for positive thinking and can boost your mood when you’re feeling sad.
These journal prompts for sadness may help you cope:
- Imagine you wake up tomorrow and all your troubles are gone. What would you do? Be specific.
- What do I need more of in my life? How can I work toward that?
- Write a love letter to yourself, saying all the beautiful and comforting things you need to hear.
- This month, I felt happy when…
- What do I need to let go of to experience more joy in life?
- How can I show up for myself today?
- What are 5 things that make my heart smile?
Depression is not just about feeling sad. Hopelessness is a feeling many people with clinical depression also experience.
If you’re feeling hopeless, licensed clinical marriage and family therapist Dr. Tiphanie Gibbs says journaling can help create a sense of control and autonomy in your life.
These journal prompts for hopelessness may help:
- What is one positive thought I can hold right now?
- What am I grateful for?
- What are my negative thoughts at this moment?
- What are 5 positive thoughts for each of those negative thoughts I have?
- It’s a rainy day. What would make it perfect?
- What is making me feel hopeless today and why?
- Is there a concrete source of my hopelessness or is it a negative thought I’m stuck on?
When you live with depression, it’s natural to experience an array of emotions, including anger and irritability.
When you’re feeling this way, Amanda Butler, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Sandy, Utah, suggests using journaling as a form of depression self-care; a way to get to know yourself better.
These journal prompts may help you process feelings like anger and irritability:
- Describe what “angry” feels like.
- Where do I feel anger in my body? Describe it in detail.
- If this feeling could talk, what would it say?
- If this feeling was an image, what would the image be? Be descriptive.
- Things that make me feel at peace are…
- What are 3 things I can do when I’m feeling irritable that help me react differently?
- Complete a deep breathing exercise that I can later use when I’m feeling angry or irritable.
When you live with depression, low mood can be directed inward, causing you to feel inadequate or worthless.
During times like these, Dr. Holly Schiff, a licensed clinical psychologist from Greenwich, Connecticut, recommends practicing affirmations.
Positive affirmation activates the reward system in your brain and helps you have a more optimistic outlook about the future.
These journal prompts for self-esteem may also help:
- What are my favorite qualities about myself and why?
- What are 3 examples of times I’ve shown strength and endurance?
- When things feel hard, something I want to always remember about myself is…
- What are the 3 things I am most proud of?
- Write a “thank you” letter to your brain and body for how they show up for you every day.
- What are 10 things worth living for?
- Write 3 reasons why you are a good friend, partner, family relative, worker, and citizen.
Depression is a mental health disorder that can significantly impair your everyday function in important areas of life. Untreated depression may mean intense and long lasting symptoms.
While journaling can offer a way to express your emotions and support your management of depression, it’s not a substitute for treatment.
Speaking with a mental health care professional can open the door to effective treatment options like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Seeing a professional can also help you identify symptoms of specific conditions like clinical depression, bipolar disorder, prolonged grief disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Journaling can be a self-care tool to manage symptoms of depression and everyday emotional challenges, in general. Having a list of journal prompts can help you start.
If symptoms of depression are debilitating, speaking with a mental health professional is highly advisable.