How Journaling Helps with Stress and Depression

Here’s a chance for you to learn about journaling for stress and depression relief.

First, let’s go over why we feel stressed then, why we feel depressed. I will share with you some journaling ideas that you can use to prevent and relieve stress and depression

Why We Feel Stressed

Why do we feel stressed? We might feel stressed and triggered when we encounter something new, different and unexpected. 

You may feel stressed when you feel something is out of your control or when you feel under pressure and overwhelmed.

Out of control

Under pressure

Over whelmed

It’s so interesting that these 3 descriptions of states we might be in are all not inside a “preferred range” – it’s out, under or over – not in, not centered, not exactly where we need and want to be. Stress can happen when we are not centered in what we wanted or expected to be in.

Notice the times in your life when you wish you had control but you actually don’t. That’s stressful. 

Also notice the times in your life when it just seems everything is adding on and adding on. You’re adding things onto yourself. Other people are adding things onto you. In that case, you can feel both under pressure and overwhelmed. It’s both under and over. Not the position you prefer. No wonder it feels stressful.

Why We Feel Depressed

A disclaimer before we discuss depression: some types of depression can be caused by brain chemistry and genetic factors. In this episode/post, I am not addressing those types of situations or any major depressive disorders.

I’m not talking about how to solve for those situations. I definitely recommend that you seek professional help if you have major depressive disorders or if you suspect that your depression may be more than just situational. 

Speaking of Situational Depression

In general I think we can feel depressed when we encounter stressful events such as when we feel loss, when we’re in an adverse situation or experiencing an adverse event. By adverse, I mean unfavorable, harmful or something that seems to be blocking success.

There’s definitely a common thread between stress, feeling under pressure, feeling overwhelmed, feeling out of control, a new and different and unexpected situation and being pulled down into a depression. 

Sometimes we can clearly see (or strongly suspect) the cause and effect between a specific loss or adverse event and an episode of depression. 


Another reason we can feel depressed is loneliness. When we’re feeling lonely, when we’re feeling alone, when we’re not feeling connection, and when we’re not feeling part of a community – a sense of depression can set in.

Sometimes, even if you are in a community, you can still feel lonely. 

Even if you have a connection to other people, if that connection is not strong or is not what you want it to be, you could still feel lonely. That loneliness can lead to feeling depressed. 

Those are just a few of many examples of why we might feel stress and depression. That’s the bad news. Let’s get into how we can prevent stress and depression. (Hopefully the good news)

Notice patterns and Triggers

What can we do about stress and depression? How can journaling help with stress and depression?

I believe that regular, consistent, thoughtful journaling can sometimes prevent stress and depression because once you have a journaling practice, you will start to notice your own patterns and triggers. 

You might find yourself writing similar phrases. You might start to pick up on how one thing leads to another and ends with a shift in your mood and emotional well-being. 

That’s a big selling point for starting a consistent journaling routine as soon as possible. So that you start creating the paper trail, the data, the background info for you to explore later to look for your own patterns and triggers. 

The more you write now, the more you have to read later, to pick up on what creates stress and depression for you.

You might start to see some early warning signs of feeling out of control, overwhelmed, and under pressure. You might start to notice the advance indicators of loneliness or not feeling connected.

Pre Plan How to Cope 

Another way journaling can help with stress and depression is using your writing time to pre plan how you will cope with your stressors and adverse events. 

Notice your own expectations before you go into situations. Do you have expectations? Are they real or unreal expectations? Is everyone else involved on board with your expectations? If not, we may predict that some adversity could show up.  If you are journaling about this in advance, you can prepare and pre plan for what could become an adverse event. Even just by becoming aware of what may be subconscious expectations can help you decide to drop them (if they’re not helpful) or communicate them (if you expect other people to know about your expectations). 

Feeling Disconnected

You can also start to notice when you are feeling less connected with your community, or with other people. The more that you write about your feelings, your experiences, and your expectations, the more you will notice the cycles that just naturally come up as part of life. By noticing them, you can create a proactive plan for how you want to deal with the things that create stress and cause depression for you.

Those are some suggestions of how you might prevent stress and depression with journaling.

Journaling Techniques to Relieve Stress and Depression

I have 3 specific techniques that you can use to help relieve stress and depression. 

Even if you’re on top of the world now, I hope you’ll consider these (and maybe mentally store them away for the future) because we’re all going to feel stressed and we will all likely be depressed at some point. 

The 3 journaling ideas for stress and depression are self awareness, gratitude, and focusing on others.

Manage your Mind

Let’s talk about self awareness first. Think of being self-aware as managing your mind. 

When you manage something, you know what you have and you decide what to do with it. 

So, if you want to manage your mind, you need to know what’s going on in your mind and then decide what to do with that. 

Another way of saying “knowing what’s in your mind” is self-awareness.

Self Awareness Exercise

A self awareness exercise you can use in your regular journaling or just as a stand-alone experience will help you identify and change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. 

The self awareness exercise I’m suggesting is when you write down all the thoughts that you’re thinking. No censorship, no judgment, just write everything down. Don’t stop yourself. Don’t try to justify. Don’t try to sugarcoat.

You just let your thoughts and opinions and judgments come out on a piece of paper. 

The Writing Process

This writing process is really good for you because it creates some objectivity. The time and the mental process that it takes to get it out of your mind gives you a little bit of distance. 

In my mind, my thoughts can feel very floaty and foggy and wispy and hard to grasp onto and hard to hold on to. My thoughts can be fleeting, but persistent. They feel so true and necessary and unquestionable. 

The beauty of journaling is that once you get those specific words down on paper (or on screen), they have solidified. You’ve now created a little distance and a little objectivity, and by being on the page or screen,  those sentences and ideas are more permanent, than fleeting. You can see and capture the thoughts. That gives you a little more control over your thoughts compared to when they’re just free floating and spinning in your mind. In your mind, your thought might be spinning and ramping itself up, in your journal, it’s static.

Choosing Thoughts Intentionally

When you can see what you’re thinking, you can choose one of those thoughts and notice the emotion that it creates.

If you like the emotion and your behavior a result of that emotion, then your thought is probably helpful. If you don’t like the behavior or the feeling, then the thought you’re thinking is probably not that helpful. 

In that case, you’re the manager, drop the thought or replace it with something more helpful. 

Figuring Out Emotions

This could also work in reverse. The other day, I noticed I was feeling grumpy. I was surprised because earlier in the day I had noticed how happy and optimistic I felt. As I encountered the grumpiness, I wondered “why am I feeling this way?” I thought back to what had happened since the morning, and realized I had experienced some disappointments. 

I started the day with one set of expectations, and then some other things happened, which I didn’t prefer, and here I was feeling grumpy. 

This is an example of me noticing my mood – my emotion – and backtracking to find out what created that emotion. It was a thought along the lines of “I don’t want this to go this way. Or “this shouldn’t be happening like this.”

Sorry for being vague about the story – but as I’m trying to retell it to you, I honestly can not remember what unexpected thing happened that I didn’t want, that caused me to feel grumpy. 

Benefits of a Strong Journaling Practice

But back to the story: without that pause and moment of self awareness and mind management, I could’ve just continued to be grumpy without even realizing why I was. 

I could have let it drive the rest of my day without even realizing the reason was because I had to do something in a way I didn’t prefer to do it. 

So, in this example, I didn’t get out my journal or my phone in the middle of the day. I didn’t write my thoughts down.  But the reason I could do the exercise mentally is because I have such a strong journaling practice. This self awareness exercise came naturally to me. I credit journaling with creating that ability for me.


The second suggestion of how you can use journaling to relieve stress and depression is gratitude journaling.

This can be really quick and easy. Off the top of your head, just write down 3 things that you’re grateful for in the past 24 to 48 hours. You are just making a short, bulleted list. They can be the tiniest,smallest things. 

They don’t have to have anything to do with stress or depression. They don’t have to counteract it. They don’t have to answer what’s creating the stress or depression. They can just be three things you’re thankful for. 

Examples of Gratitude Journal Entries

Some examples of things that I write that I’m grateful for might be “my nails look pretty today. I got a full 8 hours of sleep last night. This coffee is so delicious.” That’s it. 

Just making that quick, easy, tiny list gives your brain a little break from your stress. Thinking about what to write on the list lets you feel some gratitude in this present moment. Your mind is open to look around and consider: what am I grateful for?

Depending on how you’re feeling, even coming up with 3 things to write that you are grateful for might take a LOT of mental energy. That’s ok. You can take as long as you need. The things on the list can be almost completely insignificant. It’s all part of the gratitude practice. The more you do it, the easier it will get. The more your mind will be oriented to be on the lookout for good things to be grateful for, in addition to all the stressful, depressing things that pop up all around us. A gratitude journaling practice can give you a little bit of balance. 

Focus on (helping) Others

The third technique I’m sharing can also give you some balance. 

It is for you to focus on others.  and Bonus points: if you can add “helping” – so focus on helping others. 

But really if you just take the focus off of yourself and focus on other people – real actual individual people who you know and love (or like). Or even focus on just people in general, like 

  • focus on the children of the world
  • focus on the people of your community
  • focus on the idea of family

These can all be different and they might be triggering for different people in different situations. Don’t choose one that creates more stress or more depression. 

Choose a “people” category that lets you get the focus off of yourself and your current feelings. Instead, notice other people.

There’s a bonus available: you can also focus on how you can help other people. You can journal about  “what could I do to help a stranger, a neighbor, an old friend, a new friend, someone who does a service for me?”

So Many Possibilities

Asking yourself this question opens up so many possibilities. 

You can just think about and even brainstorm, and maybe make a list of ways to help other people. Not a generic list that someone could do, but an actual, personalized list that you could do in your situation with your resources and in your personality type. 

This  journaling technique would be a really well-spent 5 minutes. You wouldn’t even have to take action on this list. And, you should not expect yourself to if it creates more pressure or overwhelm. 

It’s just a writing exercise that reorients your mind. It takes you off of focusing on the stressful situation or on the depressive thoughts and it lets you put your mind to work doing something a little bit more uplifting and productive.

Your Next Step

This post contains affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases (which could happen if you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase). This does NOT result in any additional cost to you.

Here’s what I’m going to invite you to do today: try out one of these techniques.

Use a self-awareness exercise either in a regular journaling session or just as a one-off experiment. 

I have a notebook that will take you right through that exercise that I described:

Or, make yourself a little gratitude list – and repeat for a few days to see how it feels. 

You can get a gratitude journal that will prompt you to write three things that you’re grateful for, and then even give you an opportunity to reflect or think about those things. You can write further, if you want. 

Here’s a gratitude journal you can use:

Or, take a moment to focus on others

I don’t have a notebook for that yet. Let me know if you want one. I will create it for you.

Or, get this one in the meantime:

Now you have 3 new techniques to try, plus some proactive and pattern-recognizing reminders you can use in your journaling to relieve stress and depression. 

If you want to try one of these suggestions in a group session, you can journal with me on Zoom this coming Thursday evening.

Get the details at