Have you ever wanted to start journaling, but then you sit down to write and all you see staring back at you are big, blank pages? Feeling totally overwhelmed, you give up.

Or maybe you’ve never considered journaling. You’re not a writer, so you don’t think the practice is for you.

Sound familiar? Writing, especially about our thoughts and feelings, doesn’t always come naturally.

However, journaling is a powerful, evidence-based method for processing negative thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It helps you do this by releasing them. Think about how freeing that could feel—releasing the weight of negativity. When you use daily journaling to note feelings of gratitude, the practice can help train your brain to look for the positive as well.

Studies also have shown that journaling reduces depression, anxiety, and stress. It helps manage your overall mental health as well, whether you’re dealing with everyday stress or something bigger, such as adjusting to a major life change.

I’m a writer, and I even used to get blocked on what to journal about some days. The key is to make journaling easy by structuring your practice with specific prompts. So I developed a three-step practice that makes journaling both simple and inspirational. Now the big, blank pages will feel full of possibility, rather than like another stressful to-do on your already full list.

Before jumping in, let’s cover the basics:

  • One great feature of journaling is its accessibility. You don’t need to run out and buy anything special or download a new app. All you need is some paper, as well as a pen, pencil, or the meQ app journaling tab. You’re ready to go.
  • It’s okay to write only a few words. It’s also okay to write several pages. Just write at your own pace.
  • Find a time and try to be consistent. I recommend journaling either in the morning to start your day or in the evening as part of your wind down. My preference is in the morning, because it helps set me up for the day feeling great, strong, and empowered.

Step 1: Let It Out

Give yourself the space to release the negative emotions you’re feeling or holding in, such as fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, or shame. We are wired to feel negative emotions more quickly and easily than positive emotions. In fact, about 85 percent of our thoughts are negative, so chances are you’re feeling something.

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We tend to keep negative thoughts and emotions inside, stuffing them down and showing a brave face or flat out ignoring them. But they are still there, driving our stress and affecting our mood and outlook.

Sometimes referred to as “rage on the page” or “taking worry time,” a practice called fast writing can help let out those feelings:

  • Give yourself a few minutes.
  • Write whatever comes to mind; don’t censor or edit yourself.
  • Don’t worry about grammar or spelling; write what comes naturally to you.
  • Write as if no one will see it.

Research shows that writing about stressful situations allows people to become healthier, develop perspective, and learn to let go of the reactions that have imprisoned them. It’s also an effective way to brainstorm your way to self-discovery, providing quick access to ideas from what you’ve written. Most importantly, when we release our emotions onto the page, we allow ourselves to feel them and let them move through us.

Step 2: Let It In

Now that you’ve taken time to feel and process negative emotions, shift gears and intentionally bring in positivity. Write about the good things happening in your life.

When going through stressful times, we tend to hunker down, grit our teeth, and deal with it. Consequently, we don’t allow ourselves to feel anything but stress until the situation is resolved or passes. But guess what? You can hold two different emotions at the same time. So while things may be hard or challenging right now, you can also recognize and enjoy the good in your life.

In this second step, let in the good by writing at least three things that you’re grateful for or that are going well. The sun is out today. You’re looking forward to dinner with friends on the weekend. You exercised for two days in a row. You finished a huge project at work. Big, medium, or small, everything counts.

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Step 3: Let It Shine

Use positive affirmations to boost your confidence, let your best self shine, and counter negative beliefs that hold you back. Write several of your favorites each morning. You can change up the ones you use, or stick with the same affirmation for a while. It’s up to you. They just need to resonate with and inspire you. Try these:

  • I believe in myself.
  • My power is unlimited.
  • I can trust myself 100 percent.
  • I can face challenges with strength.

Even if you don’t totally believe it, or your judgemental mind wants to fight it, write some affirmations anyway. This process helps rewire your brain to accept these new beliefs over the old ones. Take several deep breaths, and let them sink in.

Finally, have fun. Don’t take it too seriously. Instead, think of this journaling practice as a few sacred minutes each day just for you.