20 Journaling Prompts For Working With Emotions

**(This post first appeared on the blog of New Life Foundation, a mindfulness-based recovery center in northern Thailand, where I have worked intermittently since 2012, helping people find creative ways to establish emotional balance by working with emotions.)

20 Journaling Prompts For Mental Health + Emotional Balance

I often think that writing saved my life. My parents divorced when I was 11, and later that year I received a journal for Christmas. I have kept a journal ever since. Writing prompts for therapy might sound like a far-fetched idea, but I have experienced first-hand the powerful effects of letting out your thoughts and emotions on the page.

Over the years I have developed the practice of freewriting and shared it with students who also seem to benefit. So here I share with you a few journaling prompts for mental health.

What Is Freewriting?

Freewriting is essentially stream of consciousness writing with an intention. It’s an excellent tool to identify things in the psyche that might go under the radar of our daily awareness. Journaling is like the perfect therapist: always available, never judgmental and --apart from a journal and a pen--virtually free. Freewriting provides clarity when working with emotions and direction for you to make life choices.

There are 4 guidelines for freewriting practice:

  1. Write by hand, with pen and paper, NOT on the computer.

  2. Write without stopping or lifting your pen from the page – either for a fixed period of time--15 minutes is a good place to start-- or a certain number of pages.

  3. Don’t censor or edit while you write. Let anything come out, even if it is gibberish, or horrifying! Remember: no judgement. If you lose your train of thought or don’t know what to write next, then write, “I don’t know what to write and I bla bla bla…..” Eventually something will come and you’ll get back in the flow. The thinking mind will try to edit strange ideas and sabotage your subconscious, which is where all the juicy stuff is.

  4. Perhaps most important: do not share this! You will write more freely and honestly if you know this is FOR YOUR EYES ONLY!

You can use journaling practice in different ways:

  • Use freewriting to “clear the decks” of your mind, downloading after you’ve had an argument, for example, or when you need clarity about which direction to take. It's a great tool for working with emotions.

  • Identify habitual patterns, asking for clarity on why certain unhealthy habits arise in you. Ask open ended questions like, “How am I getting in my own way?” or “what prevents me from feeling emotional balance?” and see what comes out.

  • Incorporate this practice into your daily routine to keep creative juices flowing and encourage a more conscious approach to life. Ask for inspiration. Done with intention, freewriting can definitely be considered an awareness practice and lead you to increased creativity.

  • Ask specific questions when you have choices to make and are uncertain about a situation. You can use the journaling prompts below to get you started.

20 Journaling Prompts For Working With Emotions:

  1. What's going on for me right now is...

  2. What really makes me happy is...

  3. If I knew I could not fail, I would...

  4. The last time I felt this way, I...

  5. What's not working for me right now is...

  6. What I wish I could change.

  7. What I need to accept is...

  8. The most important thing in my life is...

  9. What’s really bugging me right now.

  10. If I could say one thing to ___________ I would tell them…

  11. I know when I’m feeling good because when I feel good I ….

  12. To be honest, I would rather...

  13. What do I need to let go of?

  14. Who do I admire and why?

  15. What does my inner critic say? Respond to it in dialogue.

Try visual journaling:

As a variation, create a vision board that reflects your state of mind or one that you’d like to invite. Find images that reflect your intention and make a collage with them. You can do it with paper, glue and scissors, or you can also find apps online these days. Use your imagination! Try these visual journal ideas:

  1. Where would you like to expand your horizons

  2. Things that prevent emotional balance

  3. How you envision a new phase or relationship

  4. Your ideal situation would look like this

  5. How would you show up as your best self?

Emotional Balance + The Creative Process

We are creative beings. As technology reaches into the farthest reaches of civilization, we are becoming a planet of consumers. The opposite of consumer is a producer: someone who creates. This is how we develop as fully alive human beings - by manifesting that unique seed of life force that is in each of us. But you have to nourish that seed for it to grow.

Just like the body needs sleep in order to function optimally, the mind also needs rest. Mobile phones, social media and internet have virtually blocked easy access to this vital necessity. White space or down time allows the thinking mind to take rest so that new neural connections can be made and new ideas formed. Emotional balance is a by-product of this process. I can't tell you how many problems I've solved by holding a paintbrush or a pen. The simple act of letting go of the grip of conceptual mind seems to magically release a flood of insights. I think of making art (which includes writing) as a form of meditation practice.

Tapping Into The Creative Process

Working with emotions is essentially the foundation of creativity. When you create regularly, you start to observe your own evolution: the ongoing process of being in the present moment. Once you start paying attention to this, you also start to see changes in your life. This will encourage you to grow in positive directions.

The point is to provide a structure from which to view the mind from the same perspective each day. The activity is the same, so the nuances of the mind revealed themselves. Creativity thrives in this environment. From my own experience, when you allow your creativity to have a voice, your own voice becomes more clear, allowing your inner wisdom to shine.

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