Woman records herself on her phone while walking outside
Woman talks into her phone while walking outside (Photo: FilippoBacci/Getty)

Journaling Is Great for Your Mental Health. Here’s How to Make It Easier.

Instead of putting pen to paper, consider audio journaling as an alternative method of reflection

Woman records herself on her phone while walking outside
Ellen O'Brien

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As a writer, I spend my workdays scribbling and typing. But I’m unable to journal. I’ve tried, but within just a few minutes of the practice, I reliably find myself overwhelmed, distracted, and bored. I can’t seem to stick to the habit. (I’m the semi-ashamed owner of multiple blank notebooks.)

Yet I’m still drawn to the idea of journaling, largely because of its positive impact on mental and emotional health. A 2003 study published in Behavior Sleep Medicine, for example, found that writing down your stressors before heading to bed can make you fall asleep faster. Additionally, a 2018 study in JMIR Mental Health outlined a connection between positive affect journaling and decreased mental distress. Who among us doesn’t need those benefits?

When I recently heard from a friend about the concept of audio journaling, daily reflection suddenly felt feasible. The idea is simple: you record yourself on your phone, and your entries land in your voice memos. This was something I could do! Because if there’s one thing I’m extremely good at, it’s talking. I decided to give it a shot for a week.

The first day of my week-long endeavor felt weird. I whispered thoughts into my phone, careful not to disturb my roommates on the other side of the wall. During the session, I rambled for a few minutes, reflecting on my complicated dating life and anxieties about the future becoming part of a new auditory record. After I couldn’t think of anything else to say—shocker!—I glanced down at my screen. Six minutes and 34 seconds. It felt surprisingly relieving to name my anxieties out loud.

“Journaling is such a huge coping tool to use when you have anxiety,” Amber Benziger, a therapist and founder of The Anxiety Lab, says. But, like me, not all of her clients are able to put pen to paper. As an alternative, she recommends audio journaling. This technique often makes reflecting a more accessible practice, Benziger says.

If you always carry your phone around with you, you can opt to take inventory of your thoughts anywhere, any time, she says. You may choose to return to your audio memos, but many people don’t want to re-listen, she says. That’s OK. The lasting record isn’t the goal. “It’s just kind of a way to get it out, get it off your chest in that moment,” she says.

In that spirit, two days later, I recorded myself in public, mumbling into my phone while waiting for a delayed subway train. (As is typical in New York, no one batted an eye at my self-talk.) In a three-minute period, I worked through some of the stressors of the day: my complete exhaustion, a confusing personal relationship, a story I felt like I couldn’t nail. When the train arrived, I stopped recording, feeling just a little bit lighter.

How you complete your entries is up to you, Benziger says. For me, the practice worked best with no structure. Timed exercises often fuel my anxiety, instead softening it. But others may gravitate toward prompts and time limits. If you’re looking for some inspiration for your reflection, a prompt Benziger often recommends to her clients is: What happened today that I can forgive myself for?

I tested out that prompt during my latest recording session. At the end of the day, when my worrying typically peaks, I instead practiced self-compassion and acceptance. And when I clicked my phone off, I felt more at ease.

Lead Photo: FilippoBacci/Getty