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Journaling can be a powerful tool for self-care, but it also can be tough to sit down and write about your thoughts. The good news? There are so many ways you can put pen to paper. So, if you’ve ever thought that it just isn’t your thing, read on to learn about the different types of journaling to see if one speaks to you. (Or, if you’re already an avid journaler, see if there’s a new tool you can add to your practice!) 

What is Journaling?

It’s hard to come up with a comprehensive journaling definition because the practice can look completely different from person to person. But at its simplest, journaling is the process of regularly recording your thoughts, feelings, memories, and more on the page. 

As you’ll see in a minute, that can take the form of written words or artistic images, can use prompts or be more freeform, and can be done in a physical journal or through digital means. You can (and should!) adapt a journaling practice to your personal preferences to make it easier to stick with.

Benefits of Journaling

Why should you even care about journaling? Here are just a few of the key journaling benefits:

  • Gives you a space to get out anxious thoughts and remind yourself that you are enough
  • Helps you manage stressful situations—studies show even just a small amount of time spent journaling can lower blood pressure
  • Gives you clarity by letting you work through decisions you’re uncertain about and helping you stay in tune with your needs and desires
  • Helps you focus on the things that are most important to you and gain a stronger understanding of your values
  • Strengthens your emotional resilience and help you find more joy in life
  • Taps into your right brain and help you grow creative expression

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Journaling is such an individual activity that you can really only find out how it will help you by putting pen to paper.

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Types of Journaling

While many people imagine journaling as writing “Dear diary” and then dishing about your day, there are actually so many styles of journaling—here are just a few to explore.

1. Reflective Journaling

journal with pie chart
Skillshare teacher Yasmine Cheyenne works through a reflective journaling prompt about regret.

One of the most common uses of a journal is as a private place to reflect on your life and process emotions and experiences. This therapeutic practice can help you develop visions for the future or simply get to know yourself a little better.

Yes, there can be a lot to unpack here, so if you’re new to (or overwhelmed by) the practice, start by using journaling prompts to guide your entries.

2. Daily Journaling

blue doodles
Illustrated daily journal by Kari Cashen

Daily journaling, sort of like the diaries of your childhood days, involves noting what happened to you. It can be a long, detailed account of every hour, or a short list like writer Austin Kleon’s logbook. It can be a space to process—including your thoughts and feelings about what happened that day—or be a more objective account. 

However you approach a daily journal, it can be a great way to check in with yourself regularly, mark time, and have something for yourself or your descendants to look back on. 

3. Art Journaling

art journal
Art journal by Rivka Bakkers-de Jonge

Art journaling, similar to a sketchbook, is a great play to practice your creative skills, develop your personal style, and collect visual inspiration. You’re free to use whatever mediums you prefer—or use these pages that nobody ever has to see to try out new ones!

While you may use it as a place to document your life or process emotions through visual art, it can also just be a safe space to explore your creative expression. Learn more here about how to start an art journal.

4. Visual Journaling

what i fear vs what i hate journal pages
Visual journal by Bia Andrade

Visual journaling, also sometimes called illustrated journaling, can be another great way to combine artistic inclination with personal reflection. More tied to daily life than art journaling, a visual journal gives you a space to process your feelings and log your life through illustrations.

Like with other forms of reflective journaling, you can simply doodle about whatever’s on your mind—or choose to get started with a prompt. Learn more about starting a visual journal here!

5. Stream of Consciousness Journaling

writing in journal
Source: Unsplash
Hand writing three pages a day is one form of stream of consciousness journaling.

Stream of consciousness journaling involves writing without a prompt or goal in mind. A popular version is the “morning pages” exercise from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. The idea is to free-write three pages every morning, challenging yourself not to stop writing until it’s done (even if that means writing “I don’t know what to write” over and over again). 

If you’re not sure what to journal about, this can be a great way to get started—and you might be surprised by the things that come up!

6. Bullet Journaling

bullet journal
Bullet journal spread by Amanda Rach Lee

Bullet journaling combines several journaling goals into a very organized system. It can be used as a daily diary, a calendar and task manager, a place to reflect and process things—just about anything you’d do in a regular journal, you can do with bullet journaling! 

The thing that makes bullet journaling different is that you don’t start with a blank page but instead use a journal with a dot grid pattern as the base to create beautiful and organized layouts. Many dedicated bullet journalers will also use colorful pencils and pens, patterned washi tape, and stickers to make their journaling pages extra fun. Learn how to get started with bullet journaling here!

7. Gratitude Journaling

watercolor journal
Gratitude journaling combined with art by Hayley Rae.

Research shows that a regular gratitude practice can help improve happiness, well-being, and even physical health. Creating a gratitude journal is a powerful way to build a habit of being thankful—and have a central repository of everything you’re grateful for, which you can turn to anytime you’re feeling down.

Keep it as simple as jotting down five things you’re grateful for every night, or get more elaborate by visually journaling the things you love.

8. Travel Journaling

travel journal
Travel journal by Michelle Tabares

Tired of just having selfies to document your vacations? Travel journals can be a fun way to keep these memories in new ways. Often a mix of visual journaling, writing, and collaging mementos from your trip, travel journals give you a more nuanced snapshot of what you did, moments you don’t want to forget, and lessons learned while being a jetsetter. Feel free to use whatever journaling style feels most natural and fun to you—you are on vacation, after all!

Bonus? You’ll have a fun keepsake that lets you share your travels with others—or reminisce about all of your journeys when you’re stuck at home. 

9. Nature Journaling

natural journal
Nature journal by Rosalie Haizlett

According to Skillshare teacher Rosalie Haizlett, the nature journaling definition is “the practice of following wherever our curiosity leads us and documenting the discoveries that we make outdoors.” 

While visual journaling is a popular approach—allowing you to draw the creatures, landscapes, and textures you see—you can also write about your experiences in the great outdoors. You can use prompts (find some here!) or spend time jotting down your observations. And while it can be fun to journal when you’re in a remote area or on an epic hike, it can also be a great way to cultivate deeper appreciation for the natural world all around you, wherever you are.

10. Food Journaling

food journal
Food journal as part of a daily journal practice by Kamila Mielczarek

Food journaling can take many different forms, from listing the foods you eat each day to sketching your favorite meals or musing about food memories you don’t want to forget. It can be a helpful tool for mindful eating, but it can also be a fun addition to your daily documentation or travel journals. Whatever you’re using it for, it can be a great way to connect more with the food you’re eating. 

How to Start Journaling

Ready to get started? Pick one of the journaling styles above (or try a few!), grab a notebook and writing tool, and carve out some time to sit with your thoughts. If you need more help, here’s a full guide on getting started journaling.

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