Journaling can have major benefits — but it's not for everyone. Here's what to do if you're struggling to write down your thoughts.

Why some people love journaling, and what to try if you don't. (Getty Creative)
Why some people love journaling, and what to try if you don't. (Getty Creative)

In the months after her college graduation, Pennsylvania-based TikToker Cheyenne Livelsberger, 22, turned to journaling. As someone who struggles with anxiety, Livelsberger found the process to be a “great outlet,” causing her to feel “lighter” once she put her feelings to paper.

“These brain dump sessions help ground my thoughts and provide prospective,” says Livelsberger, who has amassed more than 200,000 followers on TikTok thanks, in part, to her journaling content. “I also practice gratitude through my writing as well, which has made me extremely appreciative of all the small but beautiful moments of life.”

California resident Maddie, 20, started journaling in early 2023 at the recommendation of her therapist. Though it initially took some experimentation, she ultimately found that journaling came with plenty of mental health benefits, like helping her reflect on the positive aspects of her life and process her different moods.

“I've always been someone who has to process things by writing them down, and doing this helps me feel more confident in expressing myself verbally,” Maddie, who now uses her TikTok to share her prompt-inspired journaling process with her more than 36,000 followers, explains to Yahoo Life. “It also is a great mechanism for calming me down in a heightened state.”

The hashtag #Journaling has more than 7.7 billion views on TikTok, and many people — like Maddie and Cheyenne — say the practice is a useful tool when it comes to managing their mental health. Experts agree that writing down your thoughts can be a powerful exercise — though, as with many mental health modalities, it may not be for everyone. Here’s what to know.

How journaling can help you manage your mental health

The most common type of journaling involves writing down not just a list of one’s daily activities, but also a reflection on the thoughts and emotions that come up during the day. Clinical psychologist Sabrina Romanoff tells Yahoo Life that a benefit of a journaling practice is that it can help you escape the loop of “vicious thought cycles,” by encouraging you to reflect on your reactions to situations instead of “catastrophizing in an unhelpful way.”

“Writing creates distance to consider your thoughts in a more objective way,” she explains. “Oftentimes we approach our thoughts as facts, which can get us into trouble when we believe our most anxiety-provoking thoughts without hesitation. The process of reading a biased thought outside of your mind can provide an alternative outlook and see things more clearly.”

Therapist Shari Foos, who created The Narrative Method, a nonprofit organization that helps people connect through creative programs, notes that journaling can help you “develop a listening relationship with yourself." Having a regular practice of self-discovery can also help you see how the past affects your present, she adds, which can lead to more self-confidence and help journalers face challenges more easily.

Mental health expert Katelyn Lehman, co-founder of the Quantum Clinic, says that journaling can also remind you of the good things in life, especially if your practice includes writing down what you are grateful for. “If you do that regularly and consistently, you can go back at the end of the month and read back on all the things you’re grateful for,” she says. “If you're someone who deals with a lot of stress and anxiety or uncertainty about your life, it allows you to reflect on and really internalize those things.”

Ultimately, she says, journaling can help you see the things that are coming up for you, as well as those that aren’t working for you. “That's what journaling does,” she explains. “It allows you to connect to your answers in a way that maybe you might not otherwise.”

What if journaling just isn’t your thing?

Experts agree that there’s no harm in trying journaling, and that it may take some time for you to get comfortable with the practice. Maddie, for example, says that she only started getting excited about journaling when she started using prompts to write. Her method includes picking a question (such as “When do you feel most like yourself?”) and writing to answer it, rather than allowing thoughts to flow freely without any structure.

Foos says it’s important to recognize the difference between feeling frustrated in the moment, and not liking the writing process. In fact, that frustration can even be incorporated into your journal, says Foos; it’s OK to “give voice” to the doubts you feel by writing them down. She also recommends giving yourself a month before coming to conclusions about whether or not to continue. “If you do decide to stop journaling, try not to come to any permanent conclusions about it,” she says.

If writing down your thoughts isn’t something you connect with, you could try a different approach, adds Lehman, who favors “art journaling.” This is big on social media as well: Many people use their journals as scrapbook-type art projects, incorporating different creative materials into the practice. According to Lehman, journaling is all about allowing "yourself to express what’s coming through for you" — and there’s no right or wrong way to approach it.

Lehman adds that people might feel frustrated if they feel like they must journal every day in order to reap the benefits. While many people enjoy a daily journaling practice, she herself has maintained an “irregular journaling practice” over the last 20 years, In which she may pick up her notebook only a few times a month. She still sees the benefit of journaling, however, because over many years, she can “review patterns that come up for myself over a lifetime.”

“There’s no regimen for this practice,” she says. “It's really about doing what works best for you.”