Why Journaling Can Help Reduce Stress — and How to Get Started

woman sitting at a coffee shop writing in a journal and has a cup of coffee on the table

By Celia Shatzman

Published On: Aug 22, 2023

Last Updated On: Sep 7, 2023

Cynthea Corfah started journaling as soon as she could write. “I remember having those cute, pink, decorative journals with a lock on the outside as a little girl,” said Corfah, 28, from New Orleans, Louisiana. “I grew up as an introspective only child, so I’ve always found the act of journaling to be a comforting release and helpful tool for problem solving.”

Diagnosed with eczema as a baby, journaling has been instrumental for easing Corfah’s anxiety and stress. “Journaling helps me to move the thoughts from my head onto paper,” she said. “I feel like eczema can worsen when we store thoughts, worry and stress in our bodies. I use journaling as a tool to calm me down, ease my mind and release my worries onto my journal pages. Fleshing out my stressors and checking in with myself really helps me to feel grounded and in control.”

A way to heal and de-stress 

Research has shown that writing can improve patient psychological and physical well-being. That’s why Eunice Yu, a board certified behavior analyst and yoga therapist in Chicago, recommends journaling for people with eczema, particularly those who struggle with the chronic cycle of itch. “Oftentimes, in that cycle, patients with severe atopic dermatitis are left feeling isolated in the chronic cycle of itch,” she said. “Keeping a journal gives you back the control to reflect or record or even rewrite and reframe your mindset throughout that chronic cycle. I have been told by patients who have eczema that journaling has become a preferred self-regulative best practice for stress and anxiety relief. It becomes an outlet for them, as much as it becomes a way to record and track their progress.”

In fact, research published in The Permanente Journal in 2021 found that journaling helps reduce stress, and a 2019 study published in JMIR Mental Health discovered that journaling is linked to fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.1,2 “Research has shown that journaling has been proven to decrease stress, manage anxiety, depression and control your symptoms by tracking (and identifying) recorded triggers, and inevitably identify negative self-talk or thoughts and behavior patterns,” Yu said. “For those reasons alone, I believe journaling has an immense influence on your relationship with yourself and your mental health.” 

Additionally, research published by Cambridge University Press found that writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events can improve mental and physical health.3

“Sometimes, it’s just about getting it out there,” Yu said. “If you experience anxiety, isolation, or depression from eczema, it’s hard to talk about, which is why journaling specifically is such a helpful tool in eczema-related stress reduction. When you’re able to put pen to paper and write about your day, even the toughest parts, you’ve begun your healing journey by learning to let it out — one word, one sentence, one page or chapter at a time. I like to think of journaling as a reflective conversation with someone you trust: yourself. I believe that a healthy relationship with yourself is the first step towards the psychology of a positive framework and healthy mindset.” 

Corfah’s eczema flares have come in waves all her life, but her skin condition was at its worst when she went through topical steroid withdrawal (TSW) from 2019 to 2021. During those tough times, journaling was especially critical for her healing journey. “I felt isolated, ugly and lost,” she said. “I was able to pour all of those dark feelings into my journal and write myself a new story. I started manifesting heavily and wrote what I hoped to see for my future. That involved clear and non-itchy skin, a romantic partner that brought me joy and security, a flexible career and financial abundance.”

Putting pen to paper

Though there are many ways to journal, Corfah opts for the old school route. “I love writing with a pen and paper,” she said. “There’s something magical that happens when you don’t know what you are going to write, but the words just start flowing from your mind to your hands to the paper. As soon as one journal fills up, I go and buy another. I’ve kept all of my journals since childhood so I can see how I’ve grown and remained the same.”

Jotting down your thoughts helps no matter how you do so, but Corfah recommends others follow her lead and journal with a real pen and paper. “Having a safe space to put all of your thoughts is a game-changer,” she said. “We spend all day on screens, so journaling helps you to check in with yourself without the distraction of notifications or open tabs. As eczema warriors, we get itchy and fidgety. Journaling helps you to be present and focus on the act of writing, not scratching. It also helps you to write down your dream life and write yourself out of your current skin struggles. Words are powerful, so use them wisely.”

Getting started

For people with eczema who are looking to start journaling, experts suggest following prompts. Yu recommends prompts that juxtapose a negative mindset with a positive framework. “For instance, start off writing out five to 10 negative emotions you felt today,” she said. “For each one, write two positive ones felt today. Among the list of your positive emotions, pick as many you want to write about, in detail, to seal off the day on a positive and hopeful note.”

As another option, Corfah suggests these questions as journal prompts: 

  • How am I really feeling in this current moment? 
  • What do I want to achieve today? 
  • What is bothering me consciously or subconsciously right now? 
  • What can I do today to get closer to my dream life? 
  • What do I want to manifest in my life? 
  • What am I grateful for? 
  • How would I describe my ideal career? 

There are a range of approaches to journaling, from prompts to free-writing. Corfah typically practices “morning pages,” which is free-flow writing for at least three pages. “That helps me to empty my mind and write down everything I wasn’t even aware was stored in my brain,” she said. “I also will ask myself specific questions so I can problem solve and get to the root of my feelings.”

Setting a routine

Ideally, it’s best to journal as often as possible and stick to a routine. However, that isn’t always a reality for everyone. Corfah wants to journal daily, but the busier her schedule is, the less she tends to journal. “In this current season (summer), I’m journaling a few times a month,” she said. “It also depends on what I’m going through. If I have a lot to get off my chest, I’m more likely to journal.”

When starting out, try to establish a routine. “The best way is to stick with consistency,” Yu says. “Whether you journal every night before bed, or twice a day morning and night, or once every day after every bad itch, try to be consistent to implement almost a ritualistic commitment to your healing (journaling) journey.” Yu suggests making it part of your self-care routine and make daily journaling more doable by doing small and short prompts once a day or every other day. 

“Journaling should be a part of every eczema warrior’s self-care routine,” Corfah said. “Some spiritual people believe that eczema is a manifestation of emotional turmoil and anxiety stuck in the body that is coming to the surface. If this is true, journaling is the perfect tool to release that anxiety from the body and mind and onto a tangible surface. You can even rip up your journal pages and throw them away for an added feeling of release. Whatever you do, just get it out!”

Cynthea Corfah posing on red stairs outside of a building with gold door
Cynthea Corfah (Photo courtesy of Corfah)


1. Schaufel M, Moss D, Donovan R, Li Y, Thoele DG. Better Together: Long-term Behaviors and Perspectives after a Practitioner-Family Writing Intervention in Clinical Practice. Perm J. 2021;25:20.250. https://doi.org/10.7812/TPP/20.250

2. Smyth JM, Johnson JA, Auer BJ, Lehman E, Talamo G, Sciamanna CN. Online Positive Affect Journaling in the Improvement of Mental Distress and Well-Being in General Medical Patients With Elevated Anxiety Symptoms: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR Ment Health. 2018;5(4):e11290. Published 2018 Dec 10. doi:10.2196/11290

3. Baikie KA, Wilhelm K. Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. 2005;11(5):338-346. doi:10.1192/apt.11.5.338

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