Simply put, journaling is “writing life down.” Writing in a journal is an opportunity to pause at some point in the day to write down what’s on your mind. There are really two key objectives to keeping a journal:

Recapturing the moment
During the course of the day, events, conversations, thoughts and activities can fly by quickly; there is little time “in the moment” for reflection. Spending just a few minutes a day writing in a journal is an opportunity to slow down, look back and revisit key events of the day, describing not only what happened, but what you recall thinking or feeling. Reflecting on how you reacted to the events of the day and how you felt throughout the day in writing can provide very useful insight into how you see yourself and the world around you. This knowledge can help you gauge the progress you’re making with your treatment plan.
Learning from the moment
Journaling is a great self-teaching tool. It provides a safe environment for not only looking at “what happened” during the day, but examining how changing your thoughts or behaviors might have brought about a different outcome. Many people find that once they’ve recounted the day’s events, they can also spend a few minutes journaling about the lessons of the day, and “practicing” alternative ways to react to stress, handle relationships and recognize and appreciate life’s positive moments.

As has been stated previously on this website, the more you know, the more active role you can play in overcoming depression. That’s true not just for understanding your diagnosis and the specifics of your treatment plan, but for knowing yourself as well. When it comes to getting to know yourself, a journal can be a powerful tool.

Studies have shown that journaling can have a positive impact on both physical and mental health, and can make psychotherapy more effective. The previous section of this website dealt with positive self-talk, and contained several suggestions for thinking less negatively and more constructively about yourself. For individuals looking to become more attuned to their thoughts and more skilled at turning them around when they become counterproductive or destructive, a written journal provides a place to “catch” those thoughts, hold on to them long enough to reflect on where they came from, and experiment with how a different way of thinking might impact a given situation.

There is no right or wrong way to keep a journal. But here are some tips on starting to journal, based on the experience of people who journal regularly and find it helpful:

Commit to making time to write in your journal on a regular basis – ideally, daily – rather than making an occasional journal entry. Aim for devoting at least 20 minutes a day to your journal.
Find a quiet time and place to journal. For example, many people set aside a few minutes at the end of the day or before bed, to write in their journals. Interruptions and other distractions may be less likely at bedtime, and you can reflect on the entire day.

Every person’s journal is different. Here are a few of the things people keep track of in their journals:

Accounts of interactions with others
It’s important to note not only life’s positive events, but the negative or stressful events as well. Research indicates that journaling can help people face stressful events, lessening the impact stress can have on their physical and emotional health.

People recovering from a depressive illness may choose to also include information in their journal specific to their symptoms and treatment.
For example:

Symptoms experienced, noting the symptom, severity, time of day, and other factors such as stress, challenging relationships, etc.) that may have contributed
Side effects experienced, noting the side effect , time of day, etc.
Changes in mood, feelings or thought patterns – a journal is a good place to gauge whether you are feeling better, worse or the same over time, allowing you to look back and see important trends in your recovery.

Remember that a journal is first and foremost a personal tool. It’s there to help you sort out the day’s events and your reaction to them. You need to feel that anything and everything on your mind can be shared in your journal, and that it is “for your eyes only.” Take whatever steps you feel are reasonable to protect your privacy and ensure that others don’t have access to your journal.

Although your journal is a confidential tool, you may find it helpful to share insights you have gained through journaling with your healthcare provider. For example, if you use your journal to track your symptoms and any side effects of your treatment, this can be very useful information to share during your regular appointments.