5 Powerful Daily Journaling Prompts for Processing Your Emotions

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A woman sits on a cozy armchair and writes journaling prompts for mental health. A yellow lab sits at her feet on a rug.
Photo by Suruchi Avasthi

“Feel your feelings” is advice that feels like non-advice. Like, no shit, Sherlock. We’re all built to feel feelings, just as we breathe and digest food and pump blood through our veins without so much as a thought. And it’s true—we’re riding the waves of our emotions on autopilot because life is overwhelming and looking at what’s bubbling beneath your subconscious can threaten the delicate balance of things. 

Unfortunately, research shows decades of repressed emotions can manifest in various physical and psychological ailments—from autoimmune issues to hypertension to cancer. In my twenties, my therapist told me if I didn’t start managing my stress, my body would find a way to manage it for me. I could choose to feel my feelings or confront a bigger, more debilitating mess in the future. 

When I turned thirty-nine, those words carried more weight. My cholesterol had crept up, I felt sluggish and listless, and worst of all, I felt trapped in my habits. I was too tired to use willpower to bully my way into submission. I no longer had the energy to fight or flee. And I had no idea where to start releasing the pressure valve without blowing up my life. 

Processing My Big Feelings

I did, in a way, blow up part of my life. I “quit” Wit & Delight as it existed in its previous form to avoid feeling the shame of failure. In the most debilitating and disorientating moments, a little voice would tell me to write. If you can do one thing today, it’s write. 

Writing—through these essays and my morning journaling practice—was helping me process what felt unfixable in my mind. On paper, the issues seemed smaller. I could see where I was lying to myself, unable to look the truth in the face. I could see where I simply needed to be loving and compassionate to the part of me that felt utterly terrified. When I kept it all in my head, it was easier to stay in the dark. It was easier to hate myself. When words hit the page, I was able to see my pain, have compassion for my suffering, realize that my experiences connected me to other humans, and as a result, acknowledge I was feeling what was true. 

I realized whenever we have a deep reaction to something—be it joy, rage, envy, or disgust—we’re having those feelings because we care. Whatever that thing is, it matters to us. And I found that to be really beautiful. It was the first time I understood that my feelings were not something to fear, but signs pointing me home. 

I realized whenever we have a deep reaction to something—be it joy, rage, envy, or disgust—we’re having those feelings because we care. . . . It was the first time I understood that my feelings were not something to fear, but signs pointing me home. 

When I look back through old journals, I often find I wrote about the same things over and over again in circles. I was processing my thoughts without considering the feelings I was experiencing in my body as a result. 

Today I’m writing about a more focused approach to journaling that puts feelings front and center. I want to share my learnings with you because they’ve changed my perspective and my life. It’s all because I listened to that silly piece of “non-advice” and started to write what was true, not only what I could face.

If you’re in the market for a new journal, give one of these a try:

A Feelings First Approach to Journaling

Many journaling exercises focus on thoughts, but I’ve gotten the most out of my journaling practice when I look beyond the thought to the feeling I need to release. I’ve often found myself ashamed of my emotional reaction to what happens in life, but it’s the shame that keeps these feelings stuck. Journaling offers a safe place to express and process them. 

When I start with what’s happening in my body, I get access to the information I can’t reach when I’m in my head. No matter what it is that’s making my thoughts swirl, processing the resulting emotion and letting it move through me is what ultimately helps me move past it. 

My Journaling Prompts for Processing Emotions

Start by responding to the prompt, How am I feeling right now? If you want to focus on a specific situation in your journaling, instead respond to the prompt, How does my body feel when I think about the thing that’s bothering me?

Then ask yourself, Where in my body am I experiencing the sensation? Do you feel pressure in your chest? Your right shoulder? Under your collarbone? How does it feel? Like an electric current? Like a solid mass? Is it gooey or sludgy or prickly? Give the feeling a complete physical manifestation—assign it attributes such as weight, color, texture, and smell. There are no wrong answers. 

Then answer the prompts, What is this feeling trying to tell me? What does it want me to know right now? 

Give the feeling a voice. Let it speak to you without judgment. Once you’ve let it speak, thank whatever came out. Witness what it had to tell you. Don’t assign it any meaning, try to fix it, or shove it away. 

When I start with what’s happening in my body, I get access to the information I can’t reach when I’m in my head.

Journaling Takes Practice

If this process seems overwhelming, or if your emotions are difficult to unlock, remember this: Journaling takes practice. Over time, its effects become more and more profound. I encourage you to commit to the process once a day for a week, ideally in the morning (or whenever you typically feel most clearheaded). Throughout the week, if you notice something that triggers you, jot down the thought and/or feeling while it’s on your mind instead of shoving it away. Then you can come back to it later in your journaling. 

I hope you at least consider what you’re consciously feeling to be the tip of the iceberg of what you’re subconsciously experiencing. Avoiding our emotions is a form of control. It’s us clinging to what hurts because changing and releasing the things that hurt us means we step into an unknown part of ourselves—an unknown future where we’re not sure what to expect. So give yourself some grace. It might seem like something we should easily be able to do, but most of us have been conditioned to contain the truth of our feelings. As a result, we shut out a wonderful kind of inner wisdom and deeper connection with the world around us. 

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