How to Use Journaling as a Coping Tool

JAN. 30, 2019

By Matt Johnson

Living a healthy and productive life with mental illness is possible, but requires healthy outlets and coping mechanisms. Journaling happens to be one of the most therapist/counselor recommended, simplest and effective coping mechanisms for managing mental illness. However, it’s also one of the most underutilized tools. 
There is a never-ending flow of thoughts that run through the minds of humans in general, which can be especially overwhelming for those with mental illness. Life is a cycle of events, ideas, stir of information, surprises, and frustrations. And without a proper way to release negative emotions, accumulated thoughts and feelings can lead to emotional turmoil. Journaling may not solve the problem, but it does free up mental space and allow you to track symptoms, understand triggers and see patterns. It can also help those with mental illness pin-point exactly what makes them feel better, so they can continue those actions. 

What Approach Should You Take in Journaling?

Journaling is a way to learn more about yourself and reflect on how you felt during different periods of time or different phases of your condition. But to thoroughly benefit from journaling, it is necessary to be completely honest and transparent with yourself and consistent with the practice. It is also helpful to be specific and detailed in your entries. 
Here is a sample prompt of questions you could answer if you are going through something or went through something you need to let out. These questions are intended to help you dig deep and make necessary connections as you journal. 

  • What happened or what was said, exactly? 

  • When did this occur? 

  • If a big amount of time has passed why are you now deciding to deal with/release it?

  • Name all parties involved and the specific parts they played? (Include yourself as well)

  • What was your initial response when this occurred? 

  • What emotions did you display when this happened?

  • What were your exact thoughts at the time?

  • Has this happened more than once? If so, what was different this time?

  • What lessons can be learned from this experience?

  • How do you feel at this very moment?

  • Do you feel loved? (If so, why? if not, why?)

  • How do you feel about your life as it stands right now?

  • Do you consider yourself an emotionally and mentally healthy person? (If so, why? if not, why?)

  • Are you content with being yourself or do you feel constant pressure to become someone else?

You can also reformat these questions if you are just attempting to process your day, a specific way that you are feeling or an ongoing situation. There is no right way to go about journaling, so you should do whatever works best for you. 
By putting these thoughts onto paper, life can begin to feel more manageable for those who struggle; it can provide understanding in the face of uncertainty. It also helps to cut down on the pessimistic and negative thoughts that often surfaces for those with mental illness. 
Journaling is an effective way to channel intense feelings into healthy and productive internal fuel. It is a form of self-expression that when done properly can lead to personal growth. When writing down your thoughts and feelings, you are forced to pause and focus on the details you may have otherwise missed. Through journaling, you have to listen rather than avoid your most intense feelings.
Matt Johnson (founder of Journaling Saves Lives®), is a licensed Minister and graduate of Malone University with a B.A. in Business Admin. Has 8 years of training, coursework and experience in Harassment Prevention, Obesity Sensitivity, Emotional Intelligence and Competence, Diversity and Inclusion, S.T.A.R.T. (active listening, rapport and relationship building). Grab your copy of my book, Detox: Becoming the Best Version of You!


We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices

Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.

Submit to the NAMI Blog

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.

Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.