7 Journaling Practices for Self-Care

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Photography by the lovely Mikayla Christiansen

Self-care, by definition, is any activity that we purposefully do in order to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health. In my opinion, one of the best ways to practice self-care is to include self-reflection in your daily routine, especially through journaling. I’ve had more than one therapist recommend journaling as a way to process and cope with stress, anxiety and depression between sessions. Even if you’re not struggling with a mental health issue or experiencing a great amount of stress, journaling every few days is a great way to check in with yourself. 

Some people don’t enjoy writing things out by hand or don’t feel that they express themselves well in writing, but that’s okay. Writing longhand in a diary like every awesome teen movie heroine is just one of many ways to journal. There are many ways to journal that also keep you organized and creative, which is important in self-care too. 

1| Traditional journaling

 Exactly what you think of when someone says “write in a journal/diary.” Sit down at your desk, pull out a notebook and pen and just write. Getting your thoughts out in a stream of consciousness on paper can feel like a detox. It’s a good way to start your day or clear your mind at the end of one. If writing longhand isn’t your style, you can definitely type up journal entries! 

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2| Structured journaling

This style is very similar to traditional journaling but helpful if you have a hard time motivating yourself to journal or think of what to write about on an average day. Create a list of questions to answer everyday or pick from when you need a prompt. I recommend writing down this list and taping it to the inside cover of your journal (or just writing it on the first page) so it is easily accessible. Here are some examples of questions you can use to structure your journal entries: 

  • How is your mood today?

  • What do you need today?

  • What are you grateful for and why?

  • What is your anxiety level like today?

  • How would you rate today/this week on a scale of 1-10?

  • What is one positive thing that happened today?


3| One Line A Day

 If you’re very busy but want to journal, try writing one line that sums up each day. It can be a long, run-on sentence that’s almost a paragraph or it can be as simple as, “Walked the dog and ran errands.” Want to elaborate a little more? Try doing one paragraph a day. 


4| Bullet journaling

This method of journaling has become very popular lately, and it’s my personal favorite. I’m a big fan of list-making and have used a planner every day since fifth grade, so when I discovered bullet journaling, I was very excited. The great thing about it is that it’s basically a custom planner. You can make it as artsy and colorful as you want and there is a lot of inspiration for different ways to format your pages on Pinterest and Instagram. This is also a very helpful method if you find yourself in a stressful time in your life. Not only does it keep you organized, but spending a few minutes each day updating your bullet journal is very relaxing. However, it does take a fair amount of discipline to keep a bullet journal updated. 

Bullet journals are often organized by week, with each week including a to-do list for each day. Some popular bullet journal elements are a key, tracker and monthly overview pages. Here is a quick beginner’s guide: 

Trackers: Bullet journalers track habits, sleep, hydration and more every day. A grid notebook is the most commonly used notebook for bullet journaling, which means each little square can equal a day on your tracker. You can have a full page per month where you track things or you can track by week. 

Key: The standard key is as follows: If a bullet is colored in, the task is complete. If it’s empty, the task still needs to be done. Arrows symbolize the task being migrated to another day. Some people create more complex keys with multiple shapes (for example, a square is a task, a circle is an event and a triangle is an assignment) and sometimes colors. The beauty of the bullet journal system is that you get to create your own strategy based on how you think and what works best for your work style. 


5| A sketchbook

Some people best express themselves through art. I recently realized that keeping a daily sketchbook is basically the same as keeping a journal. When I was in high school, I used a planner for my school assignments but had a hard time keeping up with a journal. However, I always had a sketchbook with me. I doodled in it when we watched movies in class, in my art class, at home, you name it. When I went back to look at my old sketchbook, I noticed that along with all my doodles, the pages included the songs I was listening to, tv shows I was watching and thoughts or bits of poetry that were running through my head. Some of the pages were all song lyrics or quotes with accompanying doodles.

There are a few great resources for art journaling prompts online that you can use on days when you aren’t feeling inspired. You might find that following a prompt can lead to expressing your feelings on paper. And it’s not just limited to drawing - collage, paint, whatever medium makes you happiest. 

Art journal prompts to try: 


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6| Lists

If you like the idea of a bullet journal but it’s a bit overwhelming, start by just keeping lists in a journal each day. You can start with something simple, like lists for major tasks, a playlist and a few goals. While this keeps you organized, it also creates a snapshot of what your days look like and what your current favorite things are. 


7| Dream journaling

If you’re someone who has a lot of vivid dreams, recording them may give you some insight into your own mind. I find that if I write my dreams down right when I wake up and then go back and read them later, I can sometimes connect them to things currently happening in my life. I only remember my dreams about half of the time, but it’s always fascinating to look back on them. 


The main goal of journaling is to get your thoughts out of your head and down on paper in some way. 

I like to go back and study my old journals sometimes, especially if I’m going through a certain emotion and don’t remember how I dealt with it last, or if I’m noticing a pattern in my behavior. It sounds a little weird, but studying yourself truly helps you become self-aware. It’s also nice to vent sometimes without drowning other people in your emotions. 

Personally, I use a bullet journal to keep track of my daily tasks, habits and chores, how often I sleep and the movies, books and tv shows I enjoy. My bullet journal is also a great artistic outlet for me, and I use a lot of stickers, colorful pens and washi tape to enhance it. I also use a traditional journal to write about my mood and events in my life. The combination of the two keeps me level-headed throughout the week, and I try to write in both every day. Journaling is one of my favorite self-care practices (along with long baths and hot tea) because without them, I’d be more stressed out and less organized. 

Find the journaling style (or styles!) that speak to you most and try them out for a few weeks. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by opening yourself up to self-reflection.


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What's your favorite journaling practice? Share with us below!

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Caroline McNally is a freelance writer from San Francisco, California. She loves pop culture, green tea, true crime podcasts, classic rock music and fighting for intersectional feminism and LGBTQ+ rights.

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