Mood Journaling: 12 Journaling Prompts to Help You Identify, Process, and Navigate Your Emotions

Lists calm me down. Not even to-do lists, just lists. Something about being able to visually see and process and name things is good for me. Maybe it gives me a sense of control or definition, I’m not entirely sure. 
So the other day, after a string of not particularly great days that were building to a stressful week,  I wrote out a list of all the emotions I was feeling. It looked like this.

This is the beginning of a type of journaling called Mood Journaling.

Mood journaling focuses on identifying, processing, and creating action around your emotions.

Happy, sad, anger, desire-–or if you like me, a cocktail of all the emotions possible, felt all at once.  


1. Identify what you are feeling
Mood Journaling is a great way to identify your emotions. I often have a hard time naming my emotions, usually my negative ones. I’m generally a peacekeeper–for any personality test fans out there: 9w1, S, and ISFJ. This means that I tend to mask my feelings to keep things even and steady around me, and when I do feel something negative, I often don’t share. A lifetime of these not-always-healthy habits hasn’t equipped me with the best emotion-identifying and communicating skills.

Not always knowing what exactly it is that you're feeling, is not only confusing and frustrating, it means you're more likely to be at the mercy of your emotions.

Mood journaling gives me the space, safety, and freedom to explore my negative emotions privately so I can identify and have more control over how I respond to them.
2. Gives space to process your feelings
Mood Journaling, as with other forms of reflective journaling, has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression because it helps us understand what we're feeling and find clarity.
Psychotherapist and licensed mental health counselor Haley Neidich explains,  “Having a private space to let out and explore your inner world can help you to create perspective in your life and clarity around your needs.”
Therapist Amanda Ruiz, MS, LPC says, “If you can record how you are feeling and what you are thinking, you are better able to track your emotions, notice people or places that are triggers, and recognize warning signs of your strong emotions.” 

"The simple act of writing things down can help you work through many emotional challenges that may be holding you back. Journaling can be a great tool for your emotional health, particularly if you incorporate it into your daily routine, "says Neidich.

3. Creates a plan for what to do your feelings
Lastly, mood journaling helps you create a plan for what to do with those emotions now that you’ve identified and processed them. Sometimes the act of processing is enough to diminish any stress that emotion may be causing. Sometimes it helps us realize we overreacted and need to apologize to someone. Or even still, it helps us realize exactly what somebody did that hurt us so we can talk about.

Writing down our thoughts on paper helps us navigate the complexity of our emotions, identify the root causes––and therefore solutions––more clearly.


You don’t need anything special to begin mood journaling, just paper and a pencil.

My personal journaling style is a mixture of free-flowing and structured. Like my picture above showed, sometimes I’ll just list out all the things I’m feeling. Then, I often pick one emotion and start writing ‘stream-of-conscious’ for a while. Remembering that mood journaling ultimately is about action, I’ll then respond to these guided questions using a rubric based on this Healthline article to give more structure. You can download these questions here or at the bottom of the article.
1. What’s the name of the emotion? If you can’t identify it yet, that’s okay, just skip and come back to it later.

As I mentioned, I’ve struggled with identifying my emotions in the past. If you need some help labeling more nuanced feelings download this Emotions reference sheet to help you identify what you're feeling.

Keep this handy wherever you journal and remember it’s okay if you struggle with this and a regular habit of mood journaling can help you get better at it.
2. Describe the events that caused this emotion?

We never advertise that journaling is easy; anybody who has taken it seriously knows it’s hard work. This question requires that we pause for some intentional self-reflection to identify the true situation feeding an emotion.

Just remember your journal is a safe space and be honest with yourself so you can get to the real cause of whatever it is you’re feeling.

3. How did I respond to this emotion? What were my behaviors and actions?
4. Is this emotion appropriate to the situation?
5. Was my response appropriate to the situation?
In therapy, this is often called “checking the facts.” Consider not only what you did but also the amount or scale of what you did. Another way to find your answer is to consider how you’d respond to a friend if they were in your situation.

6. Is there a problem that needs solving that is within my control?
7. What is that first step?
8. If this situation is outside of my control, what is something I can control?
Not every problem or negative emotion we encounter is going to have a solution. There’s something called “distress tolerance” or the capacity to withstand difficult emotions that we may have to embrace. 
But you can always control how you respond to the stressors in your life, so use your mood journal to explore the healthy coping mechanisms you have access to. That’s the ultimate goal with journaling; that you can slow down enough to create space for what you love. Be it calling up a friend and going for a walk, the motivation to finally start a flower garden, or shutting a door, turning off the lights, and taking a nap.
Somewhere in your journal, make a list of these things you love, so you have some ideas ready for the next time you’re experiencing a distressing emotion.


If you're looking for some deeper Mood Journaling questions, these were developed by Neidich and can help you process harder emotions:

1. Which emotion(s) am I trying to avoid right now
2. Why am I trying to hide from this emotion?
3. What does this emotion need from me?
4. What is preventing me from addressing this feeling?



So far, this article focuses on the negative emotions, but if you're wanting a specific resource to help you journal through positive emotions, you may want to look into Gratitude Journaling. We’ve partnered with licensed therapist Lara Waycot to develop a free 10-Day Gratitude Journaling Prompt which you can download here.

Mood journaling is a tool to help you improve your self-awareness and overall mental health, but it doesn’t happen overnight.

Identifying your triggers or behavior patterns, and even implementing the action steps you create takes time and courage. Remind yourself that often and remember it’s okay to go slow.

Download these Mood Journaling Prompts here


Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published