How to Use Journaling to Cope with Challenging Experiences

We all encounter challenging experiences from time to time—both small challenges and more significant ones. Learning to cope with these experiences in healthy ways can help you avoid developing problems related to food and eating—and if you’re recovering from an eating disorder, learning healthy coping strategies can support your recovery.

You can use the journaling process below any time you want to center yourself after a challenging experience.


In your journal, start by writing the word “Observations:” followed by a description of what actually happened that was challenging for you. Be like a scientist; keep your thoughts and feelings out of it. Observations are always about something that happened at a particular time and place; avoid generalizations like “always” and “never.” Be specific about when it happened.

For instance, “Observations: Last night, I saw Mike, that guy who I’ve had a crush on, talking with someone else.”


Now, it’s time to record your thoughts about what happened. Write the word “Thoughts:” followed by all the thoughts that come up for you about what you observed. This time, there are no rules; just write down your thoughts.

For instance, “Thoughts: It seemed like they were enjoying their conversation. He’s probably already falling in love with her. But they are so not right for each other! I should have went up and talked to him the other day when I had the chance. This always happens to me! I’m never going to find a partner.”

Notice the difference between what actually happened (that is, your observations) and your thoughts about it. Question your thoughts! Are you 100% sure they’re true?


Write the word “Feelings:” followed by your feelings (that is, your emotions and body sensations) related to the challenging experience. (You can find a list of feelings here.)

For instance, “Feelings: hurt, upset, sad, lonely, disappointed, discouraged, frustrated, jealous, longing.”


Write the word “Needs:” followed by your unmet needs (related to what happened). (You can find a list of needs here.)

For instance, “Needs: love, affection, belonging, companionship, self-expression.”


Finally, write the word “Requests:” followed by any request you could make—of yourself or someone else—that could help meet the needs that you identified above.

For instance, “Requests: Strike up a conversation with Mike when I see him tomorrow, and see how he responds. Think of some other guys I could also get interested in. Call up my friends, talk to them about what happened, and see if any of them want to get together. Find something fun or creative to do that doesn’t involve romance. Sign up for that class I’ve been meaning to take.”

Journaling in this way can help you slow down your thoughts, integrate difficult emotions, clarify your needs, and identify strategies for meeting them.


To learn more about how you can use observations, feelings, needs, and requests for self-connection, empathy, conflict resolution, and communication—and to connect with others who share these interests—explore Nonviolent Communication (which was created by Marshall Rosenberg).

This post was written by psychotherapist-in-training Jacob Gotwals.

Photo Columbia Gorge in February (by Sheila Sund) is used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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