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Life can be overwhelming. We all worry, stress, or feel out of control at some point. Whether you’re dealing with mental health issues or just need an outlet for your thoughts, guided journaling may help.

Of course, journaling isn’t a substitute for professional help. Still, it can be a helpful tool for sorting out your thoughts, goal setting, or just plain reflecting on your day.

Some people can jump into journaling without guidance, while others may need some direction and encouragement to sit down and reflect. Looking inward can be scary, but it can also help you get better acquainted with your beautiful self.

Psychotherapist Haley Neidich, a journaler herself, incorporates journaling into all of her client’s treatment plans, though the practice differs from person to person.

Some people might journal before a therapy session to organize their thoughts. Others prefer to journal in the morning as a way to clear their mind for the day ahead.

“I’ve witnessed journaling serve as a powerful booster to therapy, and it’s a very creative way to get to know oneself,” says Neidich.

Neidich also points out that research supports the powerful, therapeutic benefits of journaling.

One 2013 study found that people with major depressive disorder who wrote down their thoughts and feelings for at least 20 minutes a day for 3 consecutive days had lower depression scores than people who wrote about mundane events in their day.

Neidich adds that although there are certainly benefits to journaling, they aren’t a substitute for therapy or other treatments.

“What I’ve experienced anecdotally is that journaling helps people to get to know themselves and become awake to the reality of their inner world,” Neidich says. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. But some people react negatively to looking inward, so having a therapist who can guide you through and help you process those feelings is important.

Journaling also isn’t universally helpful. It may even worsen mental health symptoms for some people, explains Neidich.

“One of the biggest mistakes I see folks making is reading back over what they wrote in the past,” she explains. Revisiting expressions of powerful emotions can have a negative effect.

Neidich adds that people with personality disorders may find themselves triggered when journaling. Naturally, pouring your heart out can leave you reeling from surprising self-discoveries. Talking to a therapist before embarking on this type of deep reflective practice may be helpful — especially if you need a stronger support system.

Picking a journal can be a personal experience, but we narrowed down our list based on three major points:

  • Ease of use: Whether you’re new to journaling or a regular, every journal on the list should work for you. They’re easy to follow and don’t require any advanced experience.
  • Time commitment: When choosing each guided journal, we considered the time commitment required. We narrowed it down to options that only require a few minutes a day to a few minutes a week. This prevents a lack of time from becoming a barrier to building this healthy habit.
  • Price: We considered various budgets when building our list. All of the journals are under $30, with a handful retailing for less than $10.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $15
  • $$ = over $15

Want to try journaling for yourself? Here are a few guided journals to consider.

Best for beginners

A Year of Zen: A 52-Week Guided Journal

  • Price: $
  • Who it’s best for: anyone new to journaling who wants to start with weekly, rather than daily, prompts

This guided journal features 52 weeks of prompts inspired by Zen Buddhism. You don’t have to be spiritual to get something from it, though. Reviewers say the prompts are approachable and easy to respond to.

None of the prompts are dated, so skipping a day doesn’t mean you’ll end up with a backlog of prompts to complete. Writing space is limited, though, so keep that in mind if you’re someone who wants a lot of room to express yourself.

Pros

  • prompts are easy to respond to
  • not dated, so skipping a week doesn’t matter

Cons

  • writing space is limited

Best goal-setting journal

Poketo Quarterly Goal Planner

  • Price: $$
  • Who it’s best for: those who want to focus on personal or professional goals without committing a ton of time to journaling

The Poketo planner isn’t a traditional guided journal, but it does have space to work out your thoughts and emotions. There’s also space to track your weekly successes. Whether you want to dedicate that space to personal or professional goals (or both) is totally up to you.

Pros

  • doesn’t require a major time commitment
  • has daily, weekly, and monthly planning calendars

Cons

  • has repetitive prompts

Best gratitude journal

The 5-Minute Gratitude Journal: Give Thanks, Practice Positivity, Find Joy

  • Price: $
  • Who it’s best for: those who want to work on their gratitude practice, but only want to spend a few minutes a day journaling

This journal is Neidich’s personal recommendation. It’s designed to help people create a journaling practice. Each prompt takes just a few minutes to respond to.

Reviewers say writing in the journal helps boost their mood and positive emotions.

Pros

  • prompts can be answered in a few minutes
  • designed to cultivate joy and gratitude

Cone

  • very limited writing space

Best for self-discovery

Let That Sh*t Go

  • Price: $–$$
  • Who it’s best for: those who want to identify and overcome personal habits and traits that may be holding them back

Hear that? It’s a long sigh of relief, the sound of you letting go of what’s on your mind. Reviewers love this vulgar little journal and say that it’s helped them with sorting out their thoughts and feelings.

One reviewer does point out that the tone may be too glib for people dealing with serious mental health issues. But many people say the prompts are helpful, and the inspirational quotes and passages are funny and entertaining.

Pros

  • incorporates humor
  • includes inspirational quotes and motivational passages with prompts

Cons

  • not suitable for those with serious mental health issues

Best for edgier prompts

Burn After Writing

  • Price: $
  • Who it’s best for: those who want to get out their innermost thoughts without judgment

This aptly titled journal has over 25,000 positive reviews on Amazon. Some reviewers were disappointed to find that the book doesn’t, in fact, come with matches to set it ablaze. But many find the prompts fun and edgy.

Reviewers also point out that it’s probably best suited to younger journalers.

Pros

  • open-ended questions that inspire creativity
  • compact and easy to carry with you

Cons

  • prompts may be too edgy for some

Best for long-term journaling

F*cking Brilliant One Line a Day Journal

  • Price: $$
  • Who it’s best for: those who want to keep their journal for years to look back on progress and thoughts

There’s enough space in this journal to write down a line a day for 5 whole years. It’s a great way to preserve memories, but you can also use it to quickly get out your thoughts and feelings.

Reviewers say it’s surprisingly compact and easy to take anywhere. People also appreciate that it requires a very minimal time commitment.

Pros

  • requires very little time commitment
  • has enough space for 5 years of journaling

Cons

  • hard to write in because of its compact size

PriceWhy we chose itHighlights
A Year of Zen: A 52-Week Guided Journal$ good for beginners; requires a weekly, not daily, commitmenteasy, yet thought-provoking prompts; not dated
Poketo Quarterly Goal Planner$$ helps with professional developmentdaily, weekly, and monthly calendars; can use for personal or professional goals
The 5-Minute Gratitude Journal: Give Thanks, Practice Positivity, Find Joy$ cultivates gratitude with minimal time commitmentprompts can be answered in a few minutes; includes written and visual prompts
Let That Sh*t Go$+ helps with self-discovery and self-awarenessincludes inspirational quotes and passages; incorporates humor
Burn After Writing$ allows you to explore your innermost thoughts without judgmentprompts are on the edgier side; has 180 questions on various topics
F*cking Brilliant One Line a Day Journal$$ has enough room for 5 years of thoughtspages are dated; no prompts, just space for free thoughts

Guided journals can help with everything from cultivating gratitude and self-awareness to building professional skills. When choosing a journal, there are a few factors you may want to consider:

  • End goal: What are you hoping to get out of journaling? Do you want to dig deeper into your innermost thoughts and feelings? Do you want to become more productive and confident? Once you narrow this down, you can focus on journals that are specifically designed to help in these areas.
  • Time commitment: The next thing to consider is how much time you want to spend journaling. Do you want to commit to a daily practice or do you prefer a weekly commitment? Do you want to write a line or two or expand into lengthier paragraphs? The answers to these questions can help you decide how many prompts you want the journal to have and/or much writing space you need.
  • Type of prompts: Do you want questions that require written answers? Would you prefer artistic prompts that allow you to draw your feelings? Or maybe you want a combination of prompts and blank space that gives you the freedom to explore your own thoughts without limitations? Once you decide on what this looks like, it’s easier to figure out which journal will work best for you.

Neidich recommends incorporating a journaling practice into your daily routine. She assures that long, drawn-out sessions are not necessary. Two to 5 minutes is absolutely enough time to express yourself and reap the benefits of this habit.

She offers some tips for making journaling a habit:

  • work it into an existing routine
  • find a comfortable spot to journal
  • set a timer
  • write your thoughts down without editing yourself

“You don’t need to read what you wrote or feel that it’s a complete or cohesive journal entry,” says Neidich.

She recommends free journaling for beginners but understands that some people need more structure. Gratitude journaling is another form of journaling that some people find helpful. Neidich suggests combining journaling practices (e.g., free and gratitude) for the maximum benefit.

Goal setting

Journaling can be a helpful complementary treatment approach for people with mental health concerns. But when I put a call out to hear about people’s experiences with guided journaling, most of the people who responded found the practice helpful for personal and professional goal setting.

Colin Palfrey, CMO of Majesty Coffee, says that after receiving a guided journal as a gift several years ago, he’s kept up the practice.

“It’s a simple [exercise] to just write down one thing about your day every day,” says Palfrey. “It’s amazing to see how life has changed over the last 3 years … [it’s] a good reminder of how far I’ve come.”

For Ian Sells, CEO and founder of RebateKey, the habit began when he purchased a planner with space for journaling.

“[A] lot of my personal goals are tied into my business goals … I like working out my thoughts in writing because it forces me to think clearly,” says Sells.

Self-care

Natasha Davis, mom and small business owner, says that gratitude journaling is a form of self-care. It allows her to focus on her successes.

“My gratitude journal makes me take stock every day of all the positives, however small,” says Davis.

It has also encouraged her to create a visual representation — what she calls a positivity wall — of what she’s been writing down in her journal. Her 6-year-old son even asked to have his very own positivity wall.

“[N]ot only has my journaling experience helped me, it’s also helping my son, too,” she says, adding that she eventually plans on introducing her son to journaling.

Introducing young people to journaling is something that Neidich encourages.

“If you have a pre-teen or teenager in your life, a beautiful new journal is one of the more special gifts you can give them,” she says. “Journaling is an important, lifelong, mental health practice, and encouraging it early can really help to bolster resiliency.”

For Davis, journaling is a nightly habit. A phone reminder nudges her every night at 10 p.m. to get to it. When she misses a few nights of journaling, she says it’s definitely noticeable.

What’s the difference between a journal and a diary?

These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they do mean slightly different things. A diary can be a daily record of what happened that day. It’s more of a play-by-play of events, rather than a lot of introspection or looking forward to the future. A journal is a place to log thoughts, feelings, dreams, goals, or observations.

What is junk journaling?

Junk journaling is using recycled materials, like papers, photos, and even books, to create a handmade journal of your own. You can collect pictures or excerpts from books and magazines that speak to you, or use these materials as a base for additional art, like painting. You can also create writing spots by adding blank pages or putting pieces of blank paper over the recycled materials.

What makes a good guided journal?

A good guided journal really comes down to one thing: creative prompts that help you self-reflect or get your thoughts out on a paper. There are many types of guided journals, from manifestation journals to fitness journals, so what’s best depends on what you’re looking for. When trying to find a guided journal, read through some of the prompts to make sure they resonate with you, and then make your choice from there.

Remember that guided journaling (or journaling of any kind) isn’t a substitute for professional help. If you’re having difficulty with your mental health, speak with a mental health professional.

And don’t take guided journaling too seriously. It can be a fun, cathartic way to get your thoughts on paper, but it doesn’t have to rule your life. You won’t lose points if you accidentally skip a day or two. Do it as long as it makes you feel good.


Steph Coelho is a freelance writer with chronic migraine who has a particular interest in health and wellness. When she’s not click-clacking away on her keyboard, she’s probably nose-deep in a good book.