Have you ever kept a diary?
Lots of us write down our thoughts and feelings as children and teenagers but abandon our journals as we get older.
However, psychologists believe that writing about your experiences can be immensely therapeutic for adults, especially those experiencing mental health problems like depression.
You can keep a pen and paper journal or use your computer or phone to make notes on your feelings and life.
How should you start?
It can be hard to know what to write.
That’s where these prompts come in!
You’ll notice that most of them focus on positive change or self-analysis – they don’t encourage you to wallow in your negative emotions or think about your past mistakes.
This is because experts believe that spending a lot of time writing about what has made you unhappy can make you feel worse.
1. “So far in my life, I’ve learned/achieved…”
When you’re depressed, it’s easy to forget your successes.
Writing a list of the lessons you’ve picked up on life’s journey, together with your major accomplishments, can give you a self-esteem boost.
2. “My most treasured values are…”
What is most important to you?
Values such as kindness, generosity, creativity, and helping others make up the very core of our personalities.
What’s more, when we act in line with our values, we are likely to feel better about ourselves and the world.
If you can, take this prompt one step further and think about little changes that will take you closer to a life that matches your values.
For instance, if you value creativity, could you plan to experiment with a new artistic hobby in the near future?
3. “Last time I faced a problem in my life, I…”
Depression can lead to feelings of helplessness.
You may feel as though your problems will never go away, and that you can’t come up with a solution.
This prompt will provide you with evidence that you really do have the power to change your circumstances.
4. “Today I am grateful for…”
Gratitude journaling – the practice of noting down things you are grateful for – promotes good mental and physical health, according to research.
Even if you are simply grateful for access to clean water and a bed to sleep in, this exercise can still make you feel better!
5. “I can handle uncertainty by…”
A fear of the unknown keeps depression going.
If you try to control everything in your life, you are setting yourself up for disappointment, fear, and resentment.
Write about ways in which you can help yourself face up to uncertainty.
This might include meditation, taking each day an hour at a time, or taking an optimistic approach and looking for opportunities rather than setbacks.
6. “Three of my best qualities are…”
Recognizing what makes you unique and special is a quick mood booster.
There’s no need to be modest – write down what makes you great!
7. “A quote I really like is…”
Do you have a favorite quote that lifts you up or provides you with inspiration?
Write it down and make a few notes about why it makes you feel positive.
It’s an easy way to make yourself feel good.
8. “One of my favorite memories is…”
We all have at least a few favorite memories – things that make us smile when we recall them.
Spend a few minutes writing about a happy time in your life.
Let yourself revisit it in your mind and bask in the positive feelings.
Let yourself feel hopeful – you can and will have fun times again.
9. “Every day, I usually tell myself that…”
If you are depressed, it’s likely you don’t speak kindly to yourself.
For example, you may have thoughts like “I’m stupid,” “I’m ugly,” or “I can’t do anything right.”
Writing these thoughts out can help you challenge them.
What could you tell yourself instead?
“I’m good enough as I am,”
“I choose to treat myself well,”
and “I deserve to feel OK about myself” are examples of positive, helpful self-talk.
10. “I’ve noticed the following warning signs that I’m relapsing into a depressive phase…”
If your depression comes and goes, you may be able to spot the signs of a relapse.
As the saying goes, knowledge is power.
If you put together a list of your personal warning signs, you can prepare for future episodes.
11. “I want to tell someone that….”
Lots of depressed people carry secrets and feelings that they don’t feel able to share with anyone else.
Give yourself the time to write about the troubles you keep to yourself.
This can be an emotional release, and it can help you put problems into perspective.
12. “If someone I loved told me they were depressed, I’d tell them…”
Sometimes, it’s easier to encourage someone else than it is to support yourself.
Imagine you were writing a letter to a depressed friend.
What would you tell them?
Now read the letter back to yourself.
Journaling doesn’t work for everyone, but it costs nothing to try.
Why not pick two or three of these prompts and set aside ten minutes today to try some therapeutic writing?
Try it every day for a week, and then continue if it helps you.