What happens when you want to journal, but things get in the way?

A lot of us like the idea of journaling. We think about journaling and know it’s a great idea, maybe we go out and buy a cool journal (or get one from Paper Thoughts!). Maybe we get a special colored pen or a pencil with a neat design, or we gather our art supplies. We are going to do it! We’re going to journal!

And we do!

For a little bit…
And then we don’t.

We know we’ve got a lot of stuff running around in our heads it would be helpful to get out. We know it feels good to get it out. We know it’s healthy to get it out.

But we get lost. We forget. We get distracted. We just don’t have the energy.
Then we say “journaling just doesn’t work for me.”
But maybe we’re just not doing it in a way that really works for us.

How do you make journaling work for you?

1. Figure out the way that works best for you.

If you don’t enjoy writing, art journaling might be a better choice. If you don’t enjoy hand-writing, an e-journal or online blog might be for you. If neither of those work for you, try video journaling or vlogging. A journal, a sketchbook, a computer, a phone, an app; find what works best for you.

2. Come up with a routine.

If you feel like you want to, you can set a schedule for yourself. You can build journaling in to your routine. Personally I like to journal right before bed because it helps me sleep. But maybe you like journaling about your dreams so you want to journal when you first wake up. Or maybe you journal as soon as you get home from school so you can get all your thoughts and feeling from the day out. Find a time that makes the most sense for you.

3. Use journal prompts

Sometimes it can be hard to figure out where to start when journaling. If you’re looking for a starting point, check out our resources page for a ton of journal prompts. There are lots of different topics to choose from. Each topic has 10 questions to get you thinking and journaling.

4. Give yourself a reminder.

If you have a hard time remembering to journal, you can also set reminders for yourself. You can set an alarm on your phone to remind you to journal. You can also ask Siri or Cortana and they can remind you. Or go the old-fashioned route and leave a post-it note where you’ll see it.

5. Journal with a friend.

Sometimes it’s nice to sit next to someone and journal alongside them. It can be a great way to spend quality time together. It can also be a great way to stay accountable to your journaling. You can share what you wrote or not, whatever feels comfortable. It can also be fun to answer journal prompts with a friend to get to know them better.

Don’t have any friends who journal? Join us at our Journaling for Wellness Group at Montgomery Book Exchange from 6-8pm. Check out our facebook page for more info!

6. Or don’t do any of these things

You don’t have to do any of the things listed above if they don’t feel right to you.

It doesn’t matter if you journal every day, or once in a long while.

If you journal at all you’re an awesome journaler!

It doesn’t matter if your spelling and grammar is incorrect. It doesn’t matter if your art isn’t the prettiest. You don’t have to write pages and pages for a journal entry. You don’t have to create a masterpiece of art for art journaling. Write a few sentences, draw something small. Even 5 minutes spent expressing yourself is healing.

You can’t really be “bad” at journaling because there’s no wrong way to do it. Journaling is just for you. The only thing you might be doing “wrong” is stressing yourself out or being too hard on yourself about it.

If you’re expressing yourself, you’re journaling the right way!

A whole year! Now what?!

This March is our “birthday! It’s been a full year of Paper Thoughts!. There are so many wonderful people who have worked super hard to support us in the last year. If you’re reading this, you’re one of them and you deserve a huge THANK YOU!

Thanks to your support, in one short year we’ve:

  • Created a website, facebook and Instagram page (I’ll have to journal a little more to get over my nerves about making a youtube channel…)
  • Written 9 blog posts (the goal was one a month, but 9/12 isn’t too bad)
  • Developed a database of over 250 journal prompts  on a ton of different topics
  • Developed a “journaling basics guide” to include with every journal given to a kid in need
  • Presented a TedxTalk on the power of journaling (watch it here!)
  • Presented on journaling to a group of human services professionals
  • Attended several tabling events to spread the love of journaling
  • Partnered with South Middle School, Goshen Middle School, Orange County Department of Mental Health and Its a Girl Thing to get journals to kids

and MOST importantly, thanks to your generous donations and support;

We gave out 164 journals and sketchbooks to kids in need


Because you’re such a big part of Paper Thoughts, we want to share our goals for the coming year with you (Check out our blog post on goal setting in the new year here).

  1. Become a registered non-profit.
  2. Share more blog posts with journaling tips and topics
  3. Develop more journaling resources and journal prompts
  4. Give out more than 164 journals and sketchbooks this year

We are SO excited to keep growing in the next year. Want to help? Here’s some things you can do to help us reach our goals!

  • If you have any experience starting a non-profit or the paperwork involved, we’d love to have your guidance and hear your tips and tricks
Blog posts
  • Share your ideas about what we should blog about!
  • Do you want to share your ideas or a story about journaling with the Paper Thoughts following? Volunteer to be a guest blogger. Send us an email or shoot us a message about your idea and we’ll work with you to make it happen! We’d love to have a guest blogger on art journaling, stories about why journaling is helpful to you, or any other topic you can think of!
Journaling Resources
  • We have a LOT of journal prompts, but are always trying to think of more. If you think of a topic that we haven’t covered yet or come across a really cool prompt we might not know about let us know! We’d love to hear it!
Give out more journals!
  • Maybe you have an awesome skill, like web design, photography, video editing, social media, or organization. Maybe you’re just looking to get some volunteer hours (I’m looking at you high school kids who want to beef up their resumes!) Reach out to us by email or facebook message to volunteer!
  • Donate to our gofundme page. Just $5 will buy a journal or sketchbook! Share our campaign so others can donate too!
  • Send journals and sketchbooks. Encourage your friends to send us journals too! Paper Thoughts Program POB 64 Walker Valley NY 12588. If you’re local, message us and we can set up an in person pick up!
  • Own a business and want some good press? Email us and we can set up a collection point at your business or you can sponsor us, we’d be sure to share on our website and social media to let everyone know how awesome you are!
  • If you want to bring journaling to a group of kids you know and love, message us on facebook or send us an email and we can work with you to get journals into their hands! If you want we can also set up a time to work with the kids or give a super cool presentation on journaling to them.  
  • If you know an organization or school that might be interested in partnering with us to give out journals let us know! We’d love for you to hook us up!

I know you’re probably super busy (thanks for taking the time to read this!) so if the calls for help above are a little too much, but you still think Paper Thoughts is super cool, not to worry, there’s still important things you can do to help us out!

  • Follow us on Facebook, and share our posts!
  • Follow us on Instagram! @paperthoughtsprogram Use the hashtags #writeyourheartout #artyourheartout #paperthoughtsprogram
  • Follow our blog and share our posts! The more shares we’ve got the more people will see us and the more kids we’ll have the chance to help!

Last but absolutely not least, we want to share a few very special thank yous for people that went above and beyond to support us in the last year.

  1. Kephra Rubin at Walk Through the Valley for consulting and web design help
  2. Mikenzi Philips at The Art of M for designing our super awesome logo
  3. Shirley Seifert for helping us win a Thrivent Grant
  4. Kelly Robin at Starbucks for organizing journal drives at 3 locations
  5. Jenn Reigler for organizing a journal drive and donating a ton of journal

And of course, everyone who donated and helped distribute journals this past year

You guys are amazing!

The pages of a journal will always listen, will you help kids feel heard in the coming year?

How do you make a resolution that sticks long enough to really make a change in your life?

If you’re a human, you probably have some stuff that you’d like to change about your life. I know I definitely do. Every year we make resolutions, but usually after a month or so our momentum slows down. We stop going to the gym, forget our planners, mess up our room, text our ex and go back to our old ways. Change is HARD.
Here’s one method I’ve found really works in bringing about change.

1. Start big and work backwards to figure out what you want.

Sometimes we get stuck being “big thinkers” and have lots of ideas about what their future will look like. We might have trouble figuring out what we can do right now to get to that future. If this is you, think of goal setting like an upside down triangle. Start out really big and work your way backwards getting more specific goals as you go until you get to the “point.”

Here’s an example of what my goal chart might have looked like when I was in middle school. I started out really big with my future long term goals. Then I worked backwards until I got to something I can work on right now. The things we do now can have a big impact on the way things in our future.


Figure 1: Triangular Goal Chart. Level One – Find A job that I enjoy, helps others and allows me to support myself. Level Two – Become a social worker/therapist. Level Three: Go to college. Level Four: Finish high school with good grades so I can get into a good college. Level Five: Stay focused on my schoolwork. Level Six: Avoid drama

2. Figure out a plan of action to reach your goal.

Now that I have my goal of “avoiding drama,” I need to figure out how I’m going to do that. I have to come up with a plan of action to reach that/ It will be easier to avoid drama if I know how to do it. My action plan might look something like this:

action plan

Figure Two: Example of an Action Plan. 1. Set boundaries* with friends. 2. Think more positively about myself so what other people think won’t matter as much to me. 3. Find friends who will help me reach my goals. *Boundaries are the rules, limits, and guidelines present in a relationship that let others know what is and is not okay behavior

3. Brainstorm action steps.

Breaking it down even further, action steps help us to figure out exactly what we need to do to reach our goals. Try to be as specific as possible because that will make them easier to follow. Don’t forget, you’re brainstorming; just because you come up with an idea doesn’t mean it’s part of your plan. Maybe an idea pops in your head and you think “I’m not gonna do that!” Write it down anyway because writing it down could help you think of things you will do. Be creative, get wild and crazy! Here are some examples of how to brainstorm based on our example: 

  • A Web


Figure 3: Boundaries listed in web format. Only worry about myself. Block anyone who starts drama. Don’t listen to or spread rumors. Don’t skip class. Get off the phone when doing homework. Uninstall snapchat. Tell my friends I want to do well in school and that I don’t want to be involved in drama. Journal prompts on boundaries and communication.

  • A List

thinking positively

Figure 4: List of ways to think positively. Journal prompts. Write down 3 compliments about myself. Write down positive quotes. Write down positive song lyrics.

  • Bullet Points

supportive friends

Figure 5: Bullet pointed list of ways to find supportive friends. 1. ask my friends if they want to be involved in a study group, what their goals are so we can help each other, and if they will listen when I’m having a hard time. 2. Find new friends by joining a club at school, sitting at a new lunch table, or switching schools. 3.Get rid of friends who start drama.

4. Come Up with a Timeline.

Now that you have your goals and you’ve brainstormed action steps, it’s time to work out the details. Pick out a few action steps you’re going to commit to, come up with a plan for them, and set a date to complete them by. I like to create a timeline for myself. This helps me to remember what I need to do and how often I need to do it to reach my goal. It’s a great tool for staying on track. Here’s an example of what a timeline might look like:

Task Due Date/Plan for Completion
Talk with my friends about my goal of being involved in less drama 1/30/19: talk with my friends during lunch
Let my friends know that it’s really important that I do well in school 2/2/19: talk with my friends during lunch
Ask my current friends what their goals are so we can work together to reach them 2/20/19: talk with my friends during lunch
Ask my friends if they want to be involved in a study group Before our next big test
Join a club at school doing something I’m interested in Listen to announcements to find out when it is
Write down three good things about myself every day Ongoing – Daily: Every day when I wake up in the morning
Answer one positivity journal prompt each week
Self Love journal prompts
The Future journal prompts
Confidence journal prompts
Gratitude journal prompts
Ongoing – Weekly: Every week on Thursday night before bed
Answer one boundaries journal prompt each week
Boundaries journal prompts
Communication journal prompts
Ongoing – Weekly:
every week on Tuesday night before bed


Now that I’ve got my action steps picked out, a plan, and dates to complete them by, I’m ready to go! I’ll probably come back to these notes at least once a month to remind myself what I’m working on. I might review them more often if I’m having a hard time staying on track. The “new me” is going to commit to doing these things in the new year. By doing that I’ll be one step closer to my goal of becoming a social worker and having a job I love helping others.
I know that setting goals in this way works because it worked for me. By taking tiny steps when I was a kid I was able to reach my dreams. I have an awesome job as a social worker that I love, lets me help others, and support myself. Now that I’ve reached the top of my goal triangle, I’ve not new triangles I’m working on.

Change can be really hard, but it can also be really worth it. It might not seem like it, but the little things you do right now can make a big difference for future you. With some work and support you can create your “new you” in the new year!


Need some help getting started setting your goals or want to know more? Comment on this post and we’d be happy to help!


Happy New Year!

Ever felt scared to try something new that you know might be good for you? Here at Paper Thoughts, we love journaling (surprising, right?!). Believe it or not, there was a time where some of us felt too scared to start a journal even though we knew it might be super helpful. This is way more common than you might think. So, here’s a list of some of the fears we came up with and how to deal with them.


I don’t know where to start

Good news! By reading this, you’ve already started, even though you haven’t even done anything other than read. Thinking about doing something is the first step to doing it (hopefully anyway…) If you’re reading this you’re thinking about journaling, so you’ve kind of already started. Fear fixed!

Just kidding. There are a few things you could do if you’re having trouble knowing where to start;

  1. You might want to start out by deciding “how” you might want to try to journal. Some people like to write long paragraphs, some people write poetry or songs or raps, some people like to create art. You can always change your mind if whatever you chose isn’t doing it for you, some people like a little structure when starting out.
  2. Be like Nike and “Just Do It.” No really, just get your journal out and start writing (or making art). You can even start out by writing something like “so…I’m not sure what to write about…but here goes nothing, I’m sitting in my bedroom, on my bed….” Just. Keep. Going. You might find the words or images will just start flowing after a while.
  3. Pick a “way” to journal to give yourself some guidelines. There are lots of ways to journal, some people like to describe how their day was, some people like to express their feeling in the moment, some people like to write letters, some people like to…well you get the point. For more ideas check out our RESOURCES page and click on “Journaling Basics”.
  4. Use journal prompts. What’s a journal prompt? I’m glad you asked. A journal prompt is a question or statement to get you started journaling. An example might be something like “What kind of music makes you feel alive?” or “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” or “If your anger was a monster, what would it look like?” There are a ton of journal prompts on a bunch of different topics on our RESOURCES page. I’ll bet you’ll find one (or 7) that might work for you

What if I do it wrong?

Maybe you feel like you do everything wrong, and so “obviously” you would journal wrong too. It would make sense why you would be afraid to journal if this was the case.  Between school and home, it might feel like you can’t take the chance to find “another thing” you aren’t good at. But you are going to be good at journaling, I promise. I can make that promise because I’ve worked with lots of kids and I’ve met lots of people who journaled, and they all journal differently, but none of them do it wrong. I can make that promise because you simply can’t be “bad” at journaling, because there is no wrong way to journal. How ever you choose to journal, whatever you choose to express, it is good and it is right. You are good and you are right, even if you don’t feel that way.

What if people think I’m weird? 

They might, I can’t promise that they won’t. Someone is going to think you’re weird no matter what you do (or don’t do…I might think you’re weird for NOT journaling…). Seriously though, there can be a lot of stigma around expressing how you really feel, even if it’s in the privacy of your own journal. If people are bugging you about journaling you can try to:

  1. Remind them that it’s just another way to help you feel better, like listening to music or punching a pillow or using a stress ball.
  2. Show off your cool journal to them and ask them if they want to try journaling themselves. Refer them to paperthoughtsprogram.com to help them get started.
  3. Be stubborn and journal anyway to show them they can’t take something away from you that you enjoy.
  4. Ask a grown up for help. Yea I know, I know, everyone says that. I obviously can’t tell you to give them a papercut with the pages of your journal, so talk to a grown up about it.

What if someone sees whats in my journal?

Gosh, I hope no one looks through your journal without asking you. That’s a pretty yucky feeling to have, so it makes sense that you might be a little scared of it happening. Here are some ideas to help you feel a little less scared;

  1. Let people know you’re journaling and why you’d like it to be private. Most grown-ups who snoop in kid’s journals do it because they are worried about them or because they want to make sure everything is okay. Let your grown-ups know that if there’s something big you need help with that you’ll talk to them. Letting your grown-ups know you’re going to be keeping a journal can also help let them know they need to make sure annoying siblings keep away from them.
  2. You can keep your journal on your phone, tablet, or computer and keep it password protected.
  3. Keep your journal in a safe place in your bedroom or keep it with you. 
  4. You can get rid of pages by ripping them out of your journal and destroying them.
  5. You can black out the pages of your journal with sharpie or paint; some people even take it a step further and will write or draw on their darkened pages with white ink to create something new.

What if I find out something scary about myself?

This is the toughest one for me to write about, because in all honesty you most likely will learn new things about yourself while journaling, and that can be pretty scary for a lot of people. My best advice would be to have a “Plan B” in case stuff comes up that is difficult to deal with. Maybe you can also have a plan C, D and E, just in case.

  1. Keep journaling. Sometimes something comes up and upsets us, but the more we think about it and “process” it the easier and less scary it is. If you’re able to, just keep journaling about it.
  2. Have a list of coping skills handy. A coping skill is something you do to help yourself feel better. You probably do a lot of them naturally (listening to music, talking to a friend etc.) but it’s good to have a list to refer to when you’re having a hard time.
  3. Talk to someone about it. Sometimes it can be really helpful to talk it out with a friend or loved one. It might be helpful to keep a list of numbers handy including the crisis lines in your area and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255


Having fears about journaling is pretty common, but they actually offer a really great chance to “test” out journaling and if it would be helpful for you.

  1. Get a piece of scrap paper that you can throw away later, write down all your fears about journaling.
  2. Now go back and explain why each of those fears is true for you.
  3. Now go back (last time, I promise!) and see if you can come up with ways to get rid of those fears by seeing things from a different angle or arguing a different point (you can use this blog as a cheat sheet!).

Was that exercise helpful? Did you learn anything about yourself and how to manage your fears? Good news! That means journaling is probably for you! Hopefully this helped get rid of some of your fears and now you can start journaling. If you need more help you can always REACH OUT TO US, we LOVE to talk about journaling and would love to help you learn to love journaling too!


*If you came up with any fears that aren’t listed in this blog we’d love to hear about it! If there’s lots of fears we missed we’ll make another blog post to talk about them. You can comment here or email us at paperthoughtsprogram@gmail.com or message us on Facebook Don’t worry, we won’t use your name or contact information.

A few months ago, right when Paper Thoughts was still more of an idea than anything else (we didn’t even have a facebook page yet…), I got an email about TedxNewburgh.
For those of you who don’t know what a Ted Talk is, its a small non-profit that spreads ideas in the form of short, powerful talks. Their catch phrase is “Ideas worth spreading.” I love Ted Talks. I’ve watched hundreds of them. And now there was going to be a Tedx event close enough for me to attend in person?! I was excited!
Then a tiny idea popped in my head…what if *I* did a Ted Talk…what if I did a Ted Talk on Paper Thoughts and journaling?
I imagined myself up on stage, with the TedXNewburgh sign behind me. Microphone on, talking, spreading information. Anyone who knows me well can tell you I love to learn and I love to help others. TedX was the perfect space to get to do both. Also, it would be a great chance to help Paper Thoughts grow.
But anyone who knows me well can also tell you I tend to be an anxious person. The thought of standing up in front of all those people was terrifying.
I told myself, what’s the harm in trying to apply, at least I could say that I tried. So I submitted my application. I assumed that there would be hundreds of applicants and in a few day I’d get an email saying “thanks for your submission, but we regret to inform you you have not been chosen as a speaker.” I could pretend I had been brave and move on with my life.
That wasn’t what happened.
Instead I got an email saying I’d made it through the first round of selections and asking for a 4 minute video explaining who I was and what I wanted to talk about. I begrudgingly made my video and made it through to the final round.
Time to write a speech. And practice. And practice and practice and practice.
This was really happening. I was really going to do a TedxTalk. I was terrified. Can you guess what I did? I journaled. I journaled…a lot. In fact, I’ve almost filled up my journal pouring out all my anxiety onto the paper. Countering all my negative thoughts on the terrible things that “could happen.”
What if I fell getting on stage? What if I threw up on stage? What if I had a migraine that day? What if i froze? What if…what if…what if…
What if I forgot what to say?
Well guess what. I did forget what to say. The night of the Ted Talk I got all dressed up. I got up on stage, went out there in front of all those people, said the first few lines of my speech…
and then nothing.
My problem was, I looked down…I saw everyone looking at me.
And then I had what we call in therapy, an “intrusive thought.” An intrusive thought is an unwelcome and involuntary thought or idea that pops into your head. We teach clients to counter involuntary thoughts by thinking the opposite thought or by rationalizing them away.
“Look at all those people down there that came here to learn, you’re going to let them ALL down when you mess up.”
I stood there like a deer in the headlights for what seemed like an eternity.
I couldn’t remember the next line. I don’t know how long it was I stood there (I guess we’ll see in the video!), but it was long enough for me to imagine myself calmly turning around, walking backstage, handing the microphone back to the Tedx team and going back to my seat in the audience. Back to safety. Away from the eyes of the crowd and their looks of disappointment. Then it would be over. I inhaled deeply.
I worked REALLY hard on this speech, and there are other people that worked really hard to help me with it. And it is a good speech, and an important message. All these people are here to learn and I DO have something to teach them. I can’t take the easy way out because it feels more comfortable for me. I’ve already messed up and that’s okay, I need to keep going.
I took a deep breath, centered myself. And then I continued. And then I finished. Everyone clapped and several people approached me after to ask about Paper Thoughts and how they could get involved.
It was worth it.
I’d like to say that my ability to overcome that anxiety in the moment and persist was because of journaling. It would be really a good story for Paper Thoughts, but it would also be a lie.
Because a similar thing happened when I was 4…and I couldn’t write yet, so I obviously wasn’t journaling back then.
I was in ballet and it was my very first dance recital. I was all decked out in my fancy blue tutu and way more makeup than any 4 year old should have been wearing. I was scared. My family told me they’d be in the audience watching while I was on stage.
But then I got out on stage. I could only see the first few rows because of the lights…and none of my family was there.
They’re gone. Now you’re alone forever.
I started sobbing. I really believed that was true.
But I danced anyway.
I stood in line with all my friends and my teachers and I did ballet. Tears and makeup running down my face.
I danced.
At 4 I didn’t have the tools yet to manage my anxiety so it overwhelmed me. I didn’t know how to counter those thoughts and to get through it. I didn’t know that I could think “your parents love you and are just a few rows back, you just can’t see them because of the lights.” I didn’t have the skills.
Working as a therapist I’ve seen lots of kids without the skills to deal with negative intrusive thoughts. Lots of kids believing, panicking and sobbing instead of breathing, countering and overcoming.
Obviously, journaling is helpful for doing this. If you write down your intrusive thought, you can take a step back and remove yourself from the emotions that are attached to it. By doing that you can think more clearly. You can then write down a reframed thought; something more logical, or kinder, or more realistic. Sometimes I make a chart like this

Intrusive Thought Rational Thought
Look at all those people down there that came here to learn, you’re going to let them ALL down when you mess up. I worked REALLY hard on this speech, and there are other people that worked really hard to help me with it. And it was a good speech, and an important message. All these people are here to learn and I DO have something to teach them. I can’t take the easy way out because it feels more comfortable.
Your family is gone. Now you’re alone forever. Your family loves you and are just a few rows back, you just can’t see them because of the lights. You’ll see them when you finish dancing

You can go back and look at your reframed thoughts whenever you have the same intrusive thought and remind yourself of what is true and real. You can also track your intrusive thoughts and see how often they happen. The more practice you get countering, the less likely they are to happen.
This is such an important skill to have. And it’s something so many kids lack. If anything, this TedxTalk and my experience with it has illustrated how important getting journals into the hands of kids and teaching them how to use them is. They NEED to learn these skills, just like I did.
They need to know they can keep dancing.
They need to know they can keep talking.
They need to know they can keep learning.
They need to know they can keep growing.
And most importantly….
They need to know that we care enough to help them do it.

If you want to help Paper Thoughts show kids we care, please donate to our gofundme page or visit our get involved page to learn how you can do more to support kids in finding their voice. page to learn how you can do more to support kids in finding their voice.

“There are no happy endings.
Endings are the saddest part,
So just give me a happy middle
And a very happy start.”

–Shel Silverstein, A Light in the Attic

At some point, all of us will experience the death of someone we know and love. It can be hard to talk about what we are feeling so journaling can be a great way to release emotions when we can’t find the words to speak.

There are 2 strategies you can use to journal about grief. You can use your journal as a record for memories or you can use your journal as a way to work through your feelings. You can do either or both, whichever is the most helpful for you. There’s no wrong answer.


If you want to use your journal to record memories, here’s some ideas:

  1. Write about your favorite memory of your loved one. What made that memory so special? Try to include as many details as possible. Put yourself back in that moment with them, what did it feel like?
  2. Write about the greatest lesson you learned from your loved one. How did they teach it to you?
  3. What do you miss the most about your loved one?
  4. Keep a log of “captured moments.” When you’re really missing your loved one, write about a memory you have of them, keep it brief, but as detailed as possible. Try to include descriptions of what you were thinking and feeling at the time as well as descriptions from your 5 senses.


If you want to use your journal to work through your feelings, here are some ideas:

  1. Write a letter to your loved one. All the things you would like to say to them, all the things you’d like them to know. One of the hardest parts of grieving is coming to terms with all the things we didn’t get to say to the person we love. Here’s your chance to get them out on paper.
  2. Think about and write down the things that your loved one liked about you. This can be a good exercise when we are feeling guilty. It’s just as important to remember what the person liked about you as it is to remember what you liked about the person.
  3. Write about how you can honor your loved one’s memory in your life going forward. To honor someone’s memory means that you remember and respect them and the life that they lived. Think about what they would have wanted for you and your life. How can you make those things more likely to happen?
  4. Sometimes we can feel “stuck” in our grief. Put yourself into your own shoes one year from now. Write about what you will be thinking and feeling at that time.
  5. Sometimes we feel guilty or bad about a situation that occurred with our loved one. If you feel like that, write about it. What sorts of things do you feel guilty or bad about? Write what advice you’d give to someone who was feeling the way you are.
  6. Write the story of your loss. Talk about all the things that happened, all the things that you wish happened. From beginning to end. Include your thoughts and feelings.
  7. Write about the story of your loss from the 3rd person. Tell it like it was a story and you are narrating it as an outside person looking in. What do you observe happening? This can help you gain perspective on your loss and help you work through some of your feelings.
  8. Write about the “meaning” of loss. All of us go through loss at some point in our lives, what does it mean to you? What advice would you give to someone who is experiencing grief?


Remember, these are just suggestions, do what feels right for you. It’s okay to cry when journaling, in fact, it’s really healthy to. Don’t worry about getting your page messy with tears, or writing/drawing sloppy because you can’t see well, don’t worry about spelling or grammar or anything like that. It’s about the “process” of journaling, not the “product” of it looking nice at the end. Just express yourself, whether it be through writing or drawing or anything else that works for you. It might feel too painful to start journaling right now, it’s okay to take your time, but try to challenge yourself, you will likely feel better after journaling. As always, if you’re having a hard time dealing with your emotions by yourself, speak with an adult and ask for help.


Using Journaling after a Natural Disaster

This week our community suffered a pretty bad storm. Heavy rains, strong winds, and a tornado touched down.  Thousands were left without power, schools were canceled, and travel was impossible because of fallen trees. At least 2 people lost their lives, one of them a young girl.

Events like these can make us feel out of control, scared, and helpless. These are all totally normal reactions. But just because reactions are “normal,” doesn’t mean we have to be slaves to them. There are steps we can take to help us feel better. If you are having a hard time as a result of the storm or any other natural disaster, here are some ways that journaling might be able to help you. Remember, you can do as many or as few as you’d like of these, do whatever feels right for you.

  1. Make a list of the things you are feeling. You can’t address your feelings and start to feel better if you don’t know what they are. Write down all of the things you are thinking and feeling.
  2. Do a re-cap. Sometimes after a big scary event we might feel out of sorts. We might feel overwhelmed and have a hard time getting our thoughts in order. That’s okay. Doing a recap of the events might help. You can either write a timeline with bullet points of the events that took place, or write it out in sentences like a story. It can be helpful to include how you were feeling during each stage of the event. If you feel comfortable, you can go back and re-read what you wrote to try to make sense of it.
  3. Think about what you have control over. One of the hardest parts of dealing with a natural disaster is feeling like we have no control. Try to think about what you DO have control over. Even the little things that you control like what you eat for lunch and what clothes you wear are important to remember when we are feeling stressed and out of control. Obviously, you can’t control the weather, but think about all the things you CAN control and write them down. We usually control a lot more than we realize.
  4. What has helped in the past? Think about what has helped you get through it when you were having a hard time in the past? What coping skills did you use? A coping skill is something that you use to help you feel better. Some examples of common coping skills are; listening to music, taking a walk, deep breathing, playing video games, and…journaling! Write down some of your coping skills that have worked in the past. It’s a good idea to have a list of coping skills in your journal that you can look at when you’re having a hard time. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what helps us feel better when we are feeling bad in the moment. After you make your list of coping skills, try some out!
  5. Who can you talk to? It’s important to connect with others after something scary like a natural disaster happens. Make a list of people who you can talk to about how you are feeling. You can also brainstorm what you’d like to say to them and questions you’d like to ask. After you finish journaling, try talking to someone from your list in real life about how you are feeling.
  6. What can you do to help? Sometimes after a natural disaster helping others can help us feel better. Chances are, your community is doing a lot to rebuild and get things back to normal. Can you brainstorm ways you can get involved? Can you think of other things your community might need to get through this? What can you do to help?

Whether you choose to journal through art or writing or another medium, these ideas could help you feel a little bit better after a natural disaster. And, as always, if you find yourself still struggling, it’s important to talk to an adult about how you are feeling and ask for help.



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Journaling for Mental Health



Today is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day! And although I think EVERY day should be children’s mental health awareness day, its a good day to celebrate and have a conversation about mental health and how it all relates to…you guessed it…journaling. 

1 in 5 children  suffer from a mental health or learning disorder and 80% of chronic mental illnesses begin in childhood. That’s why it is SO important to talk about mental health.

Lots of kids (and even adults) feel like they have to hold all of their feelings inside, that they are weak if they express them. Bottling up of emotions can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety, problems managing anger, making good choices and a bunch of other issues. 

Journaling can help manage mental health symptoms because its a great way to express your emotions and get your thoughts and feelings out. 

Many times, those struggling with mental illnesses like depression or anxiety have thoughts that bother them a lot. Someone with depression might think a lot about how bad things are always going to happen to them, or how they aren’t good at anything. Someone with anxiety might think about how if they make a mistake it could ruin their lives. Journaling is an awesome way to work through that. Here’s a good way to structure it: 

  1. Write down the thought that’s bothering you. 
  2. Take a few deep breaths and try to “center” yourself. 
  3. Take a step back and re-read what you wrote. 
  4. Think about it: Does this thought make sense? Is it based in fact or opinion? How would you react if someone you cared about said this thought out loud to you?
  5. If you’re like most people, your thought might not make total sense (even though they FEEL really true). Try writing a counter thought. A counter thought is one that is based on fact and not on the way you’re feeling.   

Here’s an example of an anxious thought pattern and how journaling like this might help: 

I’m feeling REALLY anxious about my upcoming finals. It’s almost the end of school and I’m going to fail. I’m going to fail and I’m never going to get into college. I’m going to fail and I’m never going to get a good job. I’m going to fail because I’m stupid and can’t ever do anything right….” 

I’m feeling pretty terrible and scared. Let me try to journal to feel better, I’m not sure it will work, but whatever, I’ll try because I’m feeling really crappy right now and anything is better than just sitting here worrying. 

I write down “I’m going to fail because I’m stupid and can’t ever do anything right.”

I look at the page for a few seconds. I really believe this. I feel bad about myself. I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. I focus on my breathing for a few seconds. I open my eyes again and read what I wrote.

I have a hard time coming up with a “counter thought” that makes more sense. I still feel like I’m stupid and can’t do anything right. So I ask myself how I would respond if my friend said these mean words about themselves to me.

….I would say she was silly, that it’s just a final and it won’t determine what happens to her for the rest of her life, I would tell her that she’s smart and if she puts her mind to it she’ll be okay. I’d remind her of all the things she’s good at. I’d offer to help her study if she wanted, and remind her that I’m her friend and I’m here for her. 

I try to re-frame the way I think about the situation and myself. I know that beating myself up isn’t helpful and usually only makes me feel worse. 

I write down “sometimes I make mistakes and that’s okay because everyone does, I’ll study hard and try to pass my test, if I don’t it will still be okay and I’ll try harder next time.” 

I’m not sure I really believe it, but I write it down anyway because all of those things are facts. They are true and not just based on how I’m thinking and feeling. I keep going and writing down things that are nicer about myself. I try to stay positive. I feel a little better. It’s good to get my thoughts and feelings out, even if it is hard to come up with counter thoughts. Even if I don’t fully believe the positive things I wrote down, I’ve still stopped my “runaway train” of anxiety. That alone helps me feel better. 

This is just an example of how journaling can be used to manage thoughts that are really common in people struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses. It is SO important to be able to express yourself in a way that works for you. Journaling can be a great way to do that. It doesn’t matter if you express yourself better with art or with words, its just important to express yourself. 


REMEMBER: It is SO important to seek treatment from a mental health professional if you are struggling or think you might have a mental illness. Nothing is a substitute for quality care from a professional.
If you are in crisis please call your local crisis number, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or 911. 


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We are SUPER excited to announce that Paper Thoughts has been accepted as a speaker at the inaugural TedXNewburgh event! On May 18th Jen O. will be speaking about the work Paper Thoughts is doing and how we are working to support kids in our community. Check out their website and follow them on Facebook for more information! Tickets are limited and first come first serve, but aren’t on sale yet. Make sure you follow them for updates!

Do you remember how it felt to be in middle school? Oh, yes, we’re going there. Everything is changing, your body is changing, relationships are changing, roles in your family, how you’re educated: it’s all changing. During all of that, you’re somehow expected to naturally know how to cope with all of it, right?

Where does all of this go, before it all boils over?

A few months ago I was working with a student who was really struggling. We tried lots of different things, different skills to help her feel better, but none of them really “stuck.” We had stopped making progress.

Then we started writing together. Writing became a wonderful tool for her to express herself and release her pain. Things improved immensely, she was able to communicate with others better, focus in school, and just looked happier.

I was so proud of her, but my heart sank, She told me she tried not to write everyday Because she was afraid of filling up her nice journal too quickly. Writing in a notebook from the dollar store, or on scraps of paper may technically work, but the cheap paper, the scattered nature all served as a reminder of her current situation, while the nice journal helped her travel into the future and ponder what she truly wanted for herself. It allowed her to let go and dream.

So I bought some journals, nice ones, the kind a person could dream in. She was so ecstatic, I couldn’t help myself…I bought more journals… I bought… SOOO many journals and offered them to more kids, and the same thing happened.

Then the magic really hit, I started talking about it and grownups really loved the idea of helping kids journal. It was as if they could remember what it was it was like in middle school, and while no one ever handed them a journal, they had the chance to do that now for someone.

Not only did friends and coworkers bring me journals, but others were donating through facebook, and even volunteering as local collection points in their home towns, sending me cases of journals. I was able to offer these special things to more kids, and not only were more kids journaling, but more kids were reaching out for help.

So I started the Paper Thoughts Program.

The Paper Thoughts Program allows me to provide journals and sketchbooks to schools and other youth serving organizations, giving children the tools to find their voice, and manage emotions that might otherwise boil over. While I’m not psychic I do believe that such a thing ensures a brighter future for all.

Our goal started out small, hoping to collect enough journals to provide any student at South Middle School that needs an outlet for their emotions. Now, we hope to branch out to other schools, mental health providers, and youth serving organizations. With your help we can do that! Check out our Get Involved page for more info!