I tried daily journaling for a year to improve my wellbeing—here's what happened

Developing a daily journaling routine only took 10 minutes, but made a world of difference

Man developing a daily journaling habit
(Image credit: Future)

When I was diagnosed with a long-term health condition, life started to feel like a bit of a challenge. Aside from the physical effects of the illness, my wellbeing also took a big hit as I struggled to come to terms with the diagnosis.

I learned how to meditate to help protect my mind and tried to make changes to help me through the dark times. The only other one that stuck was journaling. I was skeptical at first—why would keeping a diary make me feel better?

As I read more about the types of daily journaling you can do (a diary, gratitude journal, offloading thoughts), I realized that it's a way of collecting thoughts, helping you separate yourself from them as you do in meditation.

I also came across a study published in the journal JIMR Mental Health which found that a regular daily journaling practice "decreased mental distress and increased wellbeing." I was curious, so I decided it was worth a try. 

I considered using an app on my phone but settled on a paper-based journal to take 10 minutes out of my day to write down my thoughts. I didn't have any expectations but soon found that this small daily habit could make a big difference. Here's what I noticed.

1. I started to celebrate the small things

I began noting down the things that were making me stressed, anxious, or otherwise upset to clear them from my mind. This can be an effective way of dealing with stress or anxiety, but I wasn't finding the process that useful.

Over time, I pivoted my daily journaling to focus more on what made me happy—pleasant moments in the day, notable achievements, that kind of thing. As I built a new life around my chronic illness, I also used the journal as a space to celebrate small wins too.

Regular activities like making the bed or cooking a meal from one of my favorite vegan cookbooks were a real struggle, so writing them down was a valuable reminder of what I'd achieved that day. Documenting the things I was grateful for gradually improved my wellbeing.

2. Writing is a quiet, mindful activity

Man writing a daily journal

(Image credit: Getty Images)

I tend to meditate every day in the morning and journal in the evening—it's a bit like book-ending my day with self care ideas. Meditation helped me develop a calm mind, while journaling allowed me to let go of the day.

But the physical act of writing became a mindful activity in its own right. I focused on how it felt to hold the pen, how my hand moved across the paper, and it was satisfying to fill in another entry and set the bookmark to the next day.

In a past life, I worked at a retailer that sold high-end pens. It sounds niche, and it is, but I still romanticize putting pen to paper and writing. My handwriting isn't perfect, but that doesn't matter since the journal isn't for anyone else. 

3. It was easier to spot trends

I had a flare-up of my illness earlier this year. It was a rough period that reminded me of the condition's unpredictability, and this really got to me, especially since it made it hard to work. But as I wrote my journal, I looked back at the previous year's entry.

Almost a year ago to the day, I was experiencing exactly the same thing. There are always some persistent symptoms, so it would have been noticeably worse for me to write about it in the journal. Seeing that I'd been through it before helped.

Particularly since I could skim ahead a few days and see that the flare-up died down and I got back on with my life. When you're in the middle of a stressful situation, it's hard to imagine there's a way out, but the journal reminded me I could and would again.

If you need support, you can locate immediate help using the US government's dedicated mental health website, find information and advice through the mental health charity Mind, and get in touch with the Samaritans by emailing jo@samaritans.org or calling 116 123 for free in the UK.

James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.

In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.