Skip to main content

Wellness journaling for physical and mental health

Do you struggle to stay on track with healthier habits, like eating better or exercising? Do you feel like something is holding you back? Did you know that there is a relationship between habits and how you feel emotionally and physically? 

One way to get unstuck is to start a wellness journal. Journaling for physical and mental health can support you in your journey. And you don’t have to be a great writer for it to work. 

Mental and physical benefits of wellness journaling

A report in Psychology Today outlines how you can journal your way toward improved mental health. Simply put, keeping a diary makes you happier and helps the brain regulate emotion.  

Research has found that writing can benefit people with physical illnesses, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Some of the benefits include reduced pain, fatigue, and anxiety. 

Wellness journaling combines the emotional benefits of a diary with the physical benefits of tracking what’s going on with your body. 

For example, if you are trying to eat a healthier diet, keeping a food log lets you examine what you are eating, plan meals, and stay on track. By incorporating that into a wellness journal, you can note how the changes in your diet are affecting you physically and mentally.  

This also works for exercise. You can track the workouts or activities you are doing and document the changes in your body over time and how you feel.  

When you flip back through your journal, it helps you realize all the progress you have made and the difference exercise or healthier eating makes in your life now that you are stronger and more energetic.  

That’s important on a health and fitness journey because progress can seem slow – and that can be discouraging. With journaling, you have more of a big-picture view to look back on and to see how far you’ve come. It’s encouragement to stay the course. 

Wellness journaling is a powerful tool in helping you accomplish your goals and, most importantly, to feel your best. I’ve been doing it faithfully for a while now, and it’s made a huge difference for me. 

As a certified health coach and personal trainer, I recommend it to my clients, too. My client Linda started journaling in January. Her goal is to stave off type 2 diabetes so she won’t have to go on medication.  

“I can’t even explain how beneficial it is,” she said. “It’s just an accountability. It makes me so mindful about what I put in my mouth. … There’s just an emotional freedom getting it out of your head, putting it in writing. There’s definitely something to that. It makes all the difference in the world, it really does.” 

Tips for getting started with wellness journaling

First, decide what your journal will focus on. Wellness journaling is unique to the user. There’s no one right way. 

Besides food or exercise, some people track medications, daily steps, water intake, health symptoms, mood, or dreams. Some people focus solely on gratitude and positive affirmations, to help lift their spirits. What is relevant and important to you?

Whatever your preference for your journaling practice, I recommend keeping it simple to start. Consider choosing just 1 or 2 things to focus on. This is much easier to keep up with than starting with a long list of tasks and goals. After all, journaling itself is a new habit and something new to keep up with, so keep it doable.

Next, choose which format to use for your journal. There are many options.

A journal can be a plain notebook with blank pages, or a preprinted book with guided prompts. Some are complex with lots of things to fill in, and some are minimal. Paper isn’t the only option, though. It could be an online private journal, and there are diary websites and apps that specialize in this. There’s no right or wrong. Choose the mode that works best for you.

I started with a notebook and a free app for food logging. But I did find that I wasn’t keeping up with a notebook for more than a few days at a time. None of the preprinted journals or apps offered exactly what I wanted for myself and my personal training and health coaching clients. And, I wanted pages to be predated for accountability so that I wouldn’t skip. So I created and published my own quarterly series of wellness journals. 

I’ve been using my wellness journal every day since. I like setting goals and gauging progress as a seasonal 90-day program rather than a full year. I found it’s more effective and motivating to focus on this smaller time period, and now staying on track is a breeze.

What I track and how I use my wellness journal

My goals with wellness journaling include recognizing and heading off emotional eating (something I’ve struggled with since my teens), increasing protein, dealing with food sensitivities and digestive issues, and keeping myself on track with healthy eating so I can feel my best. I want to keep off the weight that I had worked so hard to lose years ago, which is a battle in midlife. I also track how I sleep, and note how sleep issues and other factors affect my appetite, mood, and energy.

Each day is dated and has its own full page. There are 4 sections on the page: exercise, sleep, food log with time of day, and a large space for thoughts and feelings.

I keep my journal in a certain spot so I always know where it is, and keep it open to today’s page. In the food log, I write what I ate and the time. I also note the macronutrients – protein, carbohydrate, and fat grams – and calories. I track it as it happens so that I don’t forget.

I write thoughts and feelings anytime I feel the need. It could be as simple as 1 or 2 words or a few bullet points. Sometimes I fill up the whole space. Either way, I always feel better after getting those thoughts out.

One of my biggest discoveries from food logging in my journal is that when I have something with sugar, it results in overwhelming cravings for more later that day. And then, having too much sugar leads to other physical and mental symptoms for me, including anxiety and poor sleep. I wouldn’t have been able to make that connection without logging exactly what I was having and when. Knowledge is power!

Staying motivated with journaling and overcoming challenges

The best way to stay on track with journaling is to make it a habit: 

  • Keep your journal in a visible place, so that you’re reminded about it.
  • Set a time to journal. This can be an actual time in your calendar, or tied to an event in your day. My client Linda journals after dinner, and she keeps it on her dining room table.
  • Journal daily, for maximum benefit. Stay consistent.

If you’re struggling on your own with healthy habits, consider enlisting the help of a health coach or registered dietitian. If your quality of life is suffering, or if you think you may have depression or anxiety, contact your primary care provider or use our Find Care tool to connect with a physician or mental health care professional. 

Remember, as with all healthy habits, it’s not about being perfect. It’s easy to get self-judgmental, but try to let that go.

Each morning is literally a fresh start – just like our wellness journey itself. That’s something I love about journaling. Simply turn the page, and start anew.

authors photo

Michelle Rogers

Michelle Rogers

Certified Personal Trainer

Michelle Rogers is a certified personal trainer who specializes in healthy living for adults over 40. She leads classes and workshops online at Reachable Fitness, her virtual exercise studio. Find out more at and connect on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at @MRhealthyliving.

Browse related articles

Connecting with the right care

Figuring out where you “fit” on the spectrum of mental health is not always easy. But, the first step to finding a solution is to shake off the shame and stigma associated with mental health – because you are far from alone.

ADHD medication shortage

What to do if you can't find your ADHD drugs

Addressing senior isolation and loneliness

The detrimental impacts of senior isolation highlight the urgent need for providers, insurers and other health leaders to address this issue and find practical solutions to foster social connectedness among older adults.