Journaling for Depression: 10 Ways Personal Writing Soothes Depression

photo, vine wood fence, words, journaling for depression, blog post by Santa Rosa CA therapist Patty Bechtold at wiselifetherapy.com

Journaling every day helps me feel better. Journaling for depression makes a difference.

A few years ago I wrote those words in my journal, after a month of writing consistently. Perhaps you’ve had times in your life like I have, when you’ve felt sad, downhearted, or unhappy. Journaling for depression, I’ve discovered, really does make a difference in your mood.

Maybe you’ve also experienced, or are currently experiencing clinical depression, with more serious, long lasting symptoms. I’ve been there too, at an earlier time in my life. And what I want to tell you today is that no matter where you are on that continuum, from minor to severe, keeping a journal is good for depression.

words, wisdom is journaling for depression from wiselifetherapy.com

Yes, journaling for depression is a wise practice. That is, if you give it a chance.

Giving it a chance is probably the most important thing to remember. Because, of course, the benefits of journaling for depression only happen if you start writing! It makes sense, right? We all know this. 

But one of the biggest challenges with depression is this: its darkness can weave its way through almost any possibility in front of you.

Depression can strike alarm bells and warn you that nothing’s going to stem the stuckness and emptiness you feel.

Depression may tell also tell you that you can’t possibly muster the energy to try something new (or return to something you’ve done before), like journaling. 

So it’s helpful to remember that while writing soothes depression, it’s not magic.

Actually, let me reframe that slightly.

Journaling is a little bit magical, because personal, reflective writing has the capacity to pique your curiosity.

Curiosity tends to move your focus toward a sense of discovery. With that comes the possibility of different ideas and new experiences, which can, as one of my teachers used to say, “put a stick in the wheel” of rumination and negative thinking. Both are common when you feel depressed.

When combined with depression journaling, curiosity can wake up your enthusiasm.

We all have a fundamental human desire to discover and explore. It moves you forward, toward what feels both compelling and often mysterious.

It perks up your brain too, and you naturally want to follow it and see where it takes you.

As a result, the more you turn toward it, the less you may feel mired and stuck in the drain of depression.

Curiosity helps cultivate resilience too.

There are no right or wrong answers when you bring curiosity into your writing experiences.

In fact, if you can add curiosity to the mix when you’re journaling for depression, you may find it easier to reframe setbacks and challenges as normal day-to-day experiences. Perhaps you’ll even see them as learning opportunities.

And with this openness to curiosity you might find yourself bouncing back quicker from low moods or self-criticism.

So while I can’t tell you that writing will quickly snap you out of depression, I do believe it will make a difference. And I encourage you to give these 10 journaling practices a try.

10 Ways to Journal for Depression and Spark Your Curiosity

1. Start with the smallest amount of journaling.

Truly, the bare minimum. Can you manage to write for five minutes? If not, how about one minute? Or can you write one word? Then start with that tiny increment. And if that feels like too much, can you get out your journal and hold the pen in your hand for a few minutes? If so, consider that a success for the day.

Let yourself start in the smallest way, and believe that the momentum will carry you forward, as you do a little bit more each day.

2. Write the old-fashioned way (if you can) with pen and paper.

The benefits of writing by hand are well documented.

Your brain loves it, it enhances focus, creativity and problem solving, and you’ll feel calmer and more resilient if you do it consistently. Plus, it keeps you away from the distractions of screens, which are known to exacerbate depression.

3. Journaling for depression can be soothing when you write down into your senses.

This can be as simple as describing in the moment what you’re seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing and touching. Depression can leave you feeling numb and writing into your senses helps awaken them and relieve the numbness.

4. Journal outside near nature, open space, and greenery if you can.

Perhaps you can write on your patio or in your garden. Maybe in the park, at a picnic table or bench. How about an outdoor cafe? Even sitting in front of a window and looking out at a tree makes a huge difference. The combination of nature and writing is such a tremendous mood enhancer that I wish all of us were doing it regularly.

5. Use simple writing prompts that are open-ended rather than question-based.

Consider a line from a poem, or open a book or magazine and quickly grab a few words to help you get started. Let your curiosity lead, let the words choose you, rather than thinking you have to find the perfect writing prompt.

Then let your pen carry you, and trust it to take you into the writing flow. This limits your need to make decisions, which is important, because when you’re feeling down you’re probably already experiencing decision fatigue. It also removes the need to answer specific questions with your writing, which can be exhausting when you’re depressed.

6. Add color, images, doodles, and other embellishments to your depression journal.

This simple technique definitely enhances the power of writing to soothe depression. You can also place your journal in landscape mode and write sideways. Or consider writing on an angle or in a circle.

You don’t need to do this every time you write, but your brain does love novelty and this will help it sit up and pay attention.

7. Journal about positive experiences and pleasant memories from the past.

Write “as if” you’re in the experience or memory right now. Imagine stepping into the scene before you start, and feel the experience in your body as you write.

8. Write down compassionate words.

Consider words you would say to a friend or dear one if they were feeling sad or depressed. You also may want to fill your journal with uplifting quotes, or snatches of poems and prose that touch you personally.

9. Write in detail about past experiences when you’ve felt cared for and cared about.

Go ahead and capture them even if they seem small and inconsequential. Like the day the barista took extra special care with your drink. Or a friend gave you the best hug. Or your partner made that soup you love just because. When you’re able to remember and write down these caring experiences, your inner nurturer gets a natural boost.

10. Finally, stop writing if it feels very dark or difficult.

Often, journaling for depression helps release bottled up emotions. However, if it becomes an exercise in ruminating and rehashing with no end in sight, it’s better to move on to something else. Move towards a different theme, perhaps simply describing what you see right in front of you for five minutes.

Bonus: journaling for depression works even better when you write with others.

Practice any of these writing activities in a supportive group or with a supportive person by your side and you’ll probably multiply the benefits.

So remember: there is a deep, wise part of you that knows you can feel better. That knows you can move beyond depression’s negative world view. And as one writer to another, I’m rooting for you.

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When I look back on my personal story through my journals, it struck me my words had an unmatched power to heal me. To change me.
-Sandra Marinella