If you want to try journaling for depression but you don’t have any ideas for where to start, try using journaling prompts as a jumping-off point. From there, it’s up to you whether you want to continue using prompts or try some free-writing. Remember, there’s no wrong way to journal.
41 Depression Journal Prompts
Here are 41 journaling prompts for depression:
From Heidi McBain, LMFT, LPC, PMH-C:
- What is something that made me feel sad today?
- Is there something I’m grieving, like a person, relationship, pet, etc?
- How can I better take care of myself emotionally when I am feeling depressed?
- What would life be like without the depression symptoms?
From Dr. J. Fisher:
- What specific emotions do I feel today, underneath the darkness of the depression clouds? Why is it important for me to be aware of these emotions?
- What emotion is most prevalent today? Where in my body do I feel it? What would I like to feel there instead?
- When I think back, _____ was when I felt most alive, alert, curious, and safe. What was happening then? What was I doing? Who else was present?
- If there’s one thing that could change in my life now, what would that be? What can I do to start changing my direction?
- Where do I feel most depressed in my body? Why is it important for me to know where it is?
From Dr. Roberta Ballard, PhD
- When I have the energy, I will ____.
- Three times I have been happy in the past
- Five reasons my inner critic needs to quiet down
- My inner critic is wrong about ___ because ___.
From Tracy Pryce, LCSW-C:
- What times of year do I feel my best? My worst? Do I notice a pattern?
- Think of a moment when you felt deeply at peace. Write every detail you can think of. what do you smell, hear, see, taste, feel on your skin when you think of this moment?
- What steps can I take to ease my depression? What’s worked in the past?
- Write about your resilience. Give specific examples of when you’ve shown resilience.
- What do I need more of in my life? How could I take steps toward that?
- Looking back, were there early signs that I was heading toward depression?
- What’s my relationship with food like normally? How about when I’m feeling depressed? (a key here is to separate from the depression. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it’s important to recognize that we are separate from our emotions and they will pass.)
From Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, Psychologist and Hope for Depression Research Foundation Media Advisor:
- When things feel hard, I want to remember ________.
- What is something you are looking forward to?
- What made you upset today?
- When was the last time you did something nice for yourself?
- What is one thing you are curious to try but have not gotten around to it?
- Write about a happy memory in detail.
From Lauren Debiac, M.A., The Ohana Addiction Treatment Center:
- The last time I felt sad, I felt like ______. What made you feel better then?
- What is one self-care practice I can add to my daily routine?
- What is one thing I wish I could change about my life?
From Abby Chow, MA, RCC at Venturous Counselling:
- If depression is a messenger, what is it trying to tell me in this moment?
- In what ways has depression helped me survive and kept me safe?
- Does depression usually come with other emotions?
- How can I improve my relationship with depression?
From Dr. Jed Turnbull, PhD, LCSW, CHT:
- What am I feeling? When did I feel better/worse? When during the day did I experience this feeling?
- Continue with questions like: What’s making me unhappy/angry/sad? Where do I feel numb? What makes me not want to leave my bed in the morning? How long have I been feeling this way? What am I usually doing when I feel like this? What triggers these feelings? Where do I feel like this?
- What challenges am I facing and need to ask for help and support with?
- What are the lessons from today that I want to remember tomorrow?
- What are better alternatives I could try next time when confronted with similar situations?
- What could be a few healthier solutions when feeling depressed or down again
- What are a few positive things going on in my life right now?
- What is my purpose in this world at this time?
13 Tips for Journaling for Depression
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed when thinking about journaling for depression, here are 13 tips from therapists on how to get started:
1. Make a Checklist
“For managing depression symptoms, having a daily checklist in your journal can be helpful, to track things like getting out of bed, taking a shower, and drinking water. Being able to check off these small things that feel overwhelming when you’re depressed can give your mood a boost.” – Dr. Roberta Ballard, PhD
2. Schedule Your Journaling Time
“It can be helpful to determine and set a date and time that you are going to write in your journal. It can be helpful to schedule your journaling time and set it as a reminder in your calendar. You may also want to keep a timer and commit to writing for at least five minutes.” – Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, Psychologist and Hope for Depression Research Foundation Media Advisor
3. Be as Consistent as You Can
“To get results, you’ll need to stick with it. A small subset of people will notice a difference in their mindset after journaling once or twice, but most will need more time to see a shift. Setting consistent but realistic goals and booking time for the practice are key– perhaps three times per week to start.” – Tracy Pryce, LCSW-C
4. Start With Meditation
“I like clients to start with a short, quiet meditation (2-5 minutes) and then move into journaling. This can help you focus on what’s most important at that given time, which can help when starting a new journaling practice so you don’t feel so scattered and overwhelmed by the myriad of thoughts and feelings showing up.” – Heidi McBain, LMFT, LPC, PMH-C
5. Use Journaling to Track Your Moods
“Sometimes people who are depressed find journaling helpful to track and manage their mood swings. Journaling has long been known for its therapeutic value. But first, let’s clarify some not-so-common signs of depression. Depression may not just be about low moods and can include feeling emotionally shut down and numb, hypersensitivity to pain, agitation, loss of appetite or increased appetite, the inability to concentrate, impatience and even anger. A journal can be a great tool to help manage these symptoms of depression and more. It can also serve as a space for recording thoughts and feelings that are difficult to process in the moment or that you would like to return to at another time. Moreover, it is a very good way to mark your progress through the difficult times marked by depression.” – Dr. Jed Turnbull, PhD, LCSW, CHT
6. Use a Feelings Wheel as a Starting Point
“Search online for a ‘feelings wheel’ and write down three feelings you felt each day. When you experience depression, it can often seem as though that is the only thing you feel; it can be helpful to intentionally practice recognizing and validating the other emotions you experience alongside your feelings of depression. First, this helps minimize the impression folks have that their depression is always all-encompassing. That’s probably true sometimes, but no feelings are permanent even if they are recurring. Second, this can make it easier to recognize that you are more than your depression. You also experience moments of curiosity, peace, or neutrality.” – Kailey Hockridge, LPCC
7. Attach Journaling to Another Habit That You Already Have
“If you reach over to your nightstand every evening to set an alarm, put your journal and a pen on your nightstand and spend five minutes journaling before bed. Or if you sit in a certain chair with a cup of coffee every morning, keep your journal by that chair and write in it while you drink your coffee. Linking a new, desired habit to an existing habit is one of the best ways to form a new habit.” – Dr. Roberta Ballard, PhD
8. Change Your Mindset
“Get out of the “what’s the point” mindset that can accompany depression. Try telling yourself, “It can’t hurt.” You don’t need to journal every day, or for an hour every day, to benefit from journaling. Five minutes a day, several times a week, is more beneficial than not journaling at all. And, when you start to form a habit and reap the benefits, it is more likely that you will become more consistent.” – Dr. Roberta Ballard, PhD
9. Think GRAPES
“A great daily journaling prompt is to consider the acronym GRAPES and write about how you completed one, some, or all of them each day. Realistically, you will not feel good all of a sudden but consider, daily effort, and gentle awareness can improve your mood.
- Gentleness: Talk to yourself with gentleness & forgiveness
- Relaxation: Make some time to relax
- Accomplishment: Try to accomplish at least one thing, such as laundry, shower, cleaning your room, reading one chapter, etc. It also helps to do things that we know we’re good at. This list and journaling about it also counts as a major accomplishment!
- Pleasure: Try to experience pleasure from at least one thing, such as a really good piece of fruit, a song you enjoy, a warm shower, or a nice smelling candle
- Exercise: Try to get yourself moving! it’s okay if it’s not up to your standards of exercise if you weren’t depressed. Think baby steps – walking, yoga, stretching, swimming, etc.
- Social: Have a meal with friends, call a friend from home, talk with your neighbors, talk to a person in class or from work” – Pauline Yeghnazar Peck, MA, MMFT, Ph.D.
10. Don’t Be a Perfectionist
“If you’re just starting a journaling practice, try to be kind to yourself. It’s not easy to sit with your feelings and sometimes depression can make it difficult to remember tasks or stay focused on them. If you aim for short prompts and set a reminder on your phone to jot your thoughts down, this may make things easier for you. And, if you happen to miss a day or twelve, that’s alright – you can always pick it back up.” – Kailey Hockridge, LPCC
11. Journal About Depression as If It Is a Person
“If it would be helpful, give Depression a name and describe how depression looks, feels, and acts. Describe your relationship with Depression. How does Depression influence you? Consider how you can take power away from Depression. For example, are there habits, activities, thoughts that can take power away from Depression? Look for evidence in past experiences with depression. What was helpful?” – Jared Heathman, MD, Psychiatrist at Your Family Psychiatrist
12. Choose a Format That You Enjoy
“This could be handwritten, typed, or a voice recording. If you work at home solo right now, consider dusting off your voice to create a recording.” – Tracy Pryce, LCSW-C
13. Keep Your Journal in Bed With You & Write to Your Heart’s Content
“Being depressed might mean that you spend a lot of time in bed. You may be too depressed to get out of bed, let alone take a walk or cook a meal, but journaling is one thing you can do in bed!” – Dr. Roberta Ballard, PhD
When to See a Therapist for Depression
While journaling is a great practice to help alleviate some depression symptoms and track your moods, it’s not a replacement for therapy. If depression starts to interfere with your life and daily functioning, you should find a licensed therapist to help you navigate your anxiety. An online therapist directory can help you search for therapists based on location, specialty, and insurance.