5 ways keeping a diary can support your wellbeing

Emily Whitton
By Emily Whitton,
updated on Nov 23, 2023

Image shoes a diary open on a page with a pen.

We share five ways that keeping a diary can protect your mental health and wellbeing

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser during the Covid-19 pandemic, has revealed that he started a “brain dump” of private notes in diary entries at the end of his long days. His intention wasn’t for these to be published, but rather to protect his mental health. Below, we explore five ways writing a diary can support wellbeing, but first, let’s explore the difference between a diary and a journal.

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

Journaling and keeping a diary are much the same, but there are subtle differences. A journal is generally a little more informal and is usually done when things come to your mind that you want to jot down. They tend to be more about self-reflection and goal-setting.

Diaries, on the other hand, are usually done at the end of each day and are a space to explore the events that have happened on that day. They typically follow a linear timeline. There are many different types of diaries. Below are just a few examples:

  • a gratitude diary
  • a food diary 
  • a fitness diary 
  • a travel diary 
  • a sleep diary 

How can writing a diary support mental health? 

1. It can help regulate emotions 

Speaking for BBC Radio 4, psychotherapist Julia Samuel notes that this method of documenting thought can be just as effective as talking therapies. It can help regulate emotions by lowering stress and anxiety. The act of releasing pent-up feelings from our minds by getting them down on paper (or however you prefer to write!) is much like that of talking to someone. If you are having talking therapy, keeping a diary can be an especially helpful accompaniment to this. 

2. It offers an outlet for creativity 

Keeping a diary offers a creative outlet by allowing you to express yourself in any way you choose. You might decide to write a poem or draw an image to accompany your diary entry, for example. 

3. It can shape emotional intelligence 

Writing a diary is about looking inward and setting dedicated time for yourself to reflect on your experiences. This can help boost your emotional intelligence and empathy towards others. This in turn helps foster personal growth, as you become better able to analyse your experiences and recognise and learn from any errors of judgement. 

4. It can improve focus 

Diary writing can help you focus, and improve your cognition and memory retention. The physical act of writing down your thoughts and feelings helps imprint them on your brain, improving your recall. It can also help build on your critical thinking and problem-solving skills, helping you process events and keep your thoughts grounded.

5. It can help identify patterns of thinking

Keeping entries in a diary can help to to notice things that you may otherwise be unaware of. Reflecting on each and every day, we can begin to piece together how we’re feeling and identify the days when we maybe don’t feel as well in ourselves. This can also help you to notice anything that may be a trigger for you, and implement strategies to try to reduce this. 

Whatever type of diary you decide to keep, there is no right or wrong way to fill it out. Start by taking five to 10 minutes at the end of the day to look back and reflect on your experiences. You may find it easier to begin by journaling as and when thoughts come to your mind, but practising every day will help you go on to form new habits to look after your wellbeing.

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