The mood-boosting power of journaling

Jotting down your thoughts can improve your mental health. It’s easy to get started.

Person writing in a journal

Mindfulness — or being present in the moment without fixating on stressors and negative feelings — can improve your mental health. The practice can be especially helpful in the winter, when feelings of depression and loneliness tend to rise.

One way to be mindful is through journaling. “Research shows it can reduce anxiety and depression, and increase physical health by strengthening your immune cells,” says Kendal Maxwell, Ph.D. She’s a neuropsychologist in Los Angeles and the author of 12 Months to Happier Habits.

When you take the time to describe a moment, you keep your mind from wandering. That’s achieving mindfulness. Creating new habits such as journaling will also improve your mood, Maxwell adds. There’s no right or wrong time to journal. But if you need help getting started, try to make it part of your morning or bedtime routine.

Ways to journal

Not much of a writer? That’s okay! What you write in your journal isn't meant to be Pulitzer-worthy. It’s all about sharing your thoughts however you’re most comfortable. Try these tips:

  • Be present. “Focus on your senses,” Maxwell says. Take note of what you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.
  • Draw it out. Even doodling can help you express yourself.
  • Get creative. Journal through poems, lyrics, or storytelling.
  • Take notes. Jot down parts of your day or how you feel.
  • Be thankful. Make a list of what’s important to you. This may improve stress and reduce negative emotions, says Maxwell.

What is seasonal affective disorder?

Cold weather and shorter days can lead to mood changes for many people. And sometimes these mood changes come from a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

About 5% of adults may have SAD. Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Trouble managing relationships
  • Lack of self-care
  • Hopelessness
  • Decreased motivation
  • Sadness

While people tend to feel better come spring, you can get help now. Medication, counseling, and light therapy are common treatments. Talk to your doctor about the approach that’s right for you. If you find that feelings of depression linger past the winter, talk with your doctor to see if you’re experiencing a depressive disorder other than SAD.