By Jiji Lee

How to Cut Stress with a Mindfulness Journal


Easy strategies and topics for writing to calm your mind.

If you ever find yourself going through a stressful time at work or in your personal life, it might help to decompress with a mindfulness journal. 

We all know that mindfulness is good for us and has tons of mental and physical benefits, from relieving stress and anxiety to helping us improve our memory and concentration. But what is mindfulness exactly? And how do we achieve it?

Mindfulness is the act of being in the present moment, in which our thoughts are free from judgement. Rather than being distracted or multi-tasking on a million different things, mindfulness asks us to slow down and pay attention to the current task at hand. 

Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re on the phone with a loved one, but you’re not paying attention because you keep thinking about work. You’re stressing about deadlines, or a rude coworker or a future meeting you have to prepare for--these are examples of not being in the present moment. We’re thinking about the past, we’re thinking about the future, but we’re not engaging in the present activity, which in this example, is having a conversation with a loved one.

Mindfulness is often conflated with meditation, but meditation is a way that you can achieve mindfulness. Other activities that can help you become more mindful, include: 

  • Knitting
  • Gardening
  • Walking
  • Painting
  • Swimming
  • Journaling

A mindfulness journal can be a wonderful tool to help you cope during an overwhelming time. It is a simple but effective way to examine your thoughts, cultivate gratitude, and be more tethered to the present moment. Here are tips on how to keep a mindfulness journal so that you can start reaping the myriad benefits.  

What is a mindfulness journal?

The powerful thing about keeping a journal is that there is no wrong or right way to write in it. But if you’ve never kept a journal before, it can feel a little weird getting started. Do I need to write everyday? What do I write about? What if it’s boring? Luckily, you won’t be evaluated on your journal, and whatever you write should be for your eyes only. 

Some people use journals to record daily observations, others use it as a safe harbor to discuss a challenging experience, while some use it to write down bucket lists or as a place to brainstorm. But regardless of how you maintain a journal, you’ll likely feel a greater sense of self-awareness and understanding. 

Plus, journaling is a simple but powerful way to experience mindfulness. The act of writing forces you to slow down and be more mindful. Just taking the time to write about something that is stressful to you can help you gain a better understanding of the situation. In addition, making a list of things that you observed can cultivate a sense of gratitude and belonging. A mindful journal can help you cope during tough times and be quite healing. 

Other benefits of journaling include: 

  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Helping you identify fears and concerns
  • Helping you understand what causes stress so that you can feel better prepared when you experience it

How to keep a mindful journal

If you’d like to experience the benefits of mindfulness and journaling, see if you can write in your journal on a regular basis. You can always start small, perhaps writing for five minutes a few times a week, and then start building a routine.

Here are some ways that you can use your mindfulness journal: 

Cultivate gratitude

Make a list of things that you are grateful for. This might seem like an easy exercise at first glance, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective.

There will be days when we feel stressed and tired, and we’ll convince ourselves we don’t have a single thing to be grateful for. On those days, we need to dig deep, and recognize the gifts we have in our lives. Maybe it’s the security of having a roof over our heads, or the beauty of a majestic sunset, or being in the company of loved ones. Make a list of people you are grateful for or experiences or things you are grateful for. 

When we can identify these specific things that we are grateful for, even during our lowest moments, that is when we are truly experiencing gratitude and mindfulness. This act is what makes us stronger and more resilient.

Try writing your  gratitude list during your morning routine to kickstart your day on a positive note, or write it during your evening routine, so that you can wind down with a strong sense of love and appreciation. 

Stream of consciousness

You can also use your mindfulness journal to write in stream of conscious. This means writing without any structure or guidance, and as a result, will allow you to write freely, and uncensored.

It’s almost like meditation but on paper. We’re writing down our thoughts and identifying them, but we’re not judging them. This can also be an effective exercise if you’re having trouble articulating what it is that’s bothering you. Maybe you’re in a rut but you don’t know why. By writing freely and without judgement, you can allow yourself to get to the root of the problem, and then from this vantage point, you’ll be better poised to figure out how to address these emotions.

A popular stream of conscious exercise is the Morning Pages exercise from the creativity workbook The Artist's Way. With the Morning Pages, you write first thing in the morning, when you’re still in that drowsy state (and your inner critic will be too tired to say anything!) and you write three pages of free hand. If three pages sounds like a lot, you can try to write a paragraph at first and then build your way up.  

Daily observations

Use your journal to record what happened that day or any observations from your work or personal life. If you’d like to tap into your creativity, try writing in vivid, descriptive language, and evoke the five senses.

These observational exercises can be a great way to express your creativity while also making you feel more connected to your experiences. So often, our days can feel so fleeting, as if we’re just passive bystanders of our lives, going to work, going home, making dinner, rinse and repeat. But sitting down and journaling encourages us to take pause and define what we’re seeing, thinking, and experiencing, and this engagement can make our days feel more tangible, as if we’re active, dynamic participants in our lives--because we are

If you’re looking for more ways to keep a mindfulness journal, here are tips on how to use your journal to feel more calm and centered.