Journals 101

Do you journal? I’ve been journalling since I was a kid, when it was called a diary. I was recently asked to elaborate on my technique, which made me realize that my journals are not one-size-fits-all. This post describes how journalling best helps me.


This is my gratitude journal. I’ve had one for decades, before they ever looked this pretty. My good days END with gratitude though: I write mine before bed. Mornings are too hectic and making it part of my pre-bedtime routine helps lull me to sleep. No point trying to force morning gratitude just because it’s someone else’s preference.


Whereas gratitude journalling helps me to stay calm and feel appreciative, constructive journalling helps me to deal with difficult emotions. I tend to journal the most when I’m sad or frustrated, using two different techniques.

Sad journalling is one where I sit with my emotions, name them, and write them down. I might first write about the situation that resulted in me feeling this way, but I force myself to keep this descriptive writing to a paragraph or at-most half a page, or it turns to venting, which I don’t find is productive. After writing my brief description of the situation, I start a list. Each new line says “I feel” followed by an emotion. For example:

  • I feel sad.
  • I feel hurt.
  • I feel disappointed.
  • I feel annoyed.
  • I feel alone.

And on and on until I’ve run out of words to describe how I feel. Then, based on a technique my therapist taught me, I recall an image from my past that evokes the opposite emotion. I sit with this for a few minutes and then attempt to write an opposites type of list. It’s often difficult to start.

  • I feel justified.
  • I feel okay.
  • I feel calm.
  • I feel needed.
  • I feel appreciated.

This was a quick jump from ‘justified’ to ‘appreciated’ but my lists are a lot longer than five bullet points in real life. The goal is to get to a place of feeling better, and this technique almost always works for me.

Angry journalling is a modified CBT technique to try to get to a place of less intense emotions. I cannot do angry journalling if I am furious, so I must use another technique to first calm down (I like cardio and/or cleaning). When I am ready to talk/write about it, I write SHORT responses to the following 4 questions:

  • What happened?
  • How do I feel about it?
  • What are possible explanations from the other person’s perspective?
  • What is the end result?

Usually my end result is that somebody overreacted and/or there was a miscommunication. I have to then decide if I feel better enough to move on or if I still feel frustrated enough to start a conversation with the other person. If starting a conversation is not an option, I find it helps to wait a few days and repeat this process. It surprises me how often I feel better and can move on after this exercise.

And to reiterate, I limit myself to only a paragraph or at most half a page of my journal for each question. Otherwise it turns into venting and I keep going in circles. Below is an example from my journal. It’s messy because I write fast, so let me know if you’re keen to know any of the illegible details.


I don’t often use journal prompts because most of the time I have too much to say, but they do help if I have writer’s block or need a distraction to stop overthinking and focus my thoughts. Prompts are also great when I am depressed, especially gratitude prompts like the ones below.

Basically, journalling can be wonderful self-care and promote mental stability. I love it and I hope these techniques will help you love it too. And if you don’t, that’s okay. I don’t love baking. Or swimming. Or gratitude journalling in the morning. No point trying to force it just because it’s someone else’s preference.