Journaling prompts for brain injury

Telling your story

You are the author of your life story. By understanding the power of story, you can change the way you carry your life circumstances, no matter what has happened to you… You have the power to shift your perspective from victim to victor, from survivor to thriver, from loser to winner.

— Sandra Marinella, MA, Med, The Story You Need to Tell

Journaling our stories is writing or recording thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Doing this can show us how we perceive and interpret what we have experienced. It can also help us shift our perspective on events to move forward more positively.

In their journaling workbook, After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story, Barbara Strahura and Susan B. Schuster write,

Telling your story helps you to cope with new situations and make decisions. It is also vital. You need to be able to express yourself in open and honest ways for your mental, emotional, spiritual, and even physical health.

They go on to write,

A brain injury can turn a life upside down. Before it, you had a story of your life. After it, you began a new and unfamiliar one. How do you learn to live within this new reality? If you can’t go back to the way you were, how do you figure out who you can be now? The answer: you tell your story, and it will show you how.

For many people who live with brain injury, journaling their story has provided the opportunity to build upon the strengths they have and helped them work towards goals.

Before you begin

Journaling is not just expressing the sad or traumatic events of your story. It’s important to write about that, but it may make you feel worse instead of better if that is all you include.

Make sure to include happy events and moments that took place. Including what you’re grateful for is an excellent practice, too.

By including all aspects of your story, journaling can help you begin to move through, forward, and further away from trauma, negativity, and sadness and towards a more optimistic, positive, and centred place.

Relaxation techniques

“…writing can make pain tolerable, confusion clearer, and self stronger.”  — Anna Quindlen, Newsweek, Jan. 22, 2007

There are a few things you should do before you begin journaling:

  • Before you begin, gather your journaling tools (journal or paper, pen or pencil, tape-recorder, or sit in front of your computer etc.)
  • Put on music, that you find soothing. If this is distracting for you, you can also focus on creating a silent atmosphere
  • Sit comfortably with both feet on the floor if possible and your hands in your lap
  • Close your eyes, and take a deep breath through your nose. Hold the breath for as long as it’s comfortable. Exhale through your mouth. Repeat this a few times
  • With your eyes still closed, let your breath return to your normal rhythm. Slowly begin to notice your body starting at the top of your head and travel down slowly to your toes. Relax any places that feel tense
  • Now, imagine the tensions, concerns, and anxieties of your day exiting from the top of your head and entering a balloon. When you’ve filled the balloon and your feeling calmer, seal the balloon and watch it float away
  • Know that you are safe, and that your journal is private and just for you if that is your choice. Take your time and begin when ready

Prompts for journaling

These journaling prompts will guide you in writing your story, exploring yourself, and your life to gain insights. They will help you to learn more about yourself each time you journal.

Remember to date each entry and revisit the relaxation techniques before you begin.

1. This is what it feels like to be me today…
Reminder: Begin with the relaxation technique and date your entry.

Try to use as much detail as you can. Write about what’s on your mind, what emotions you are feeling, how you feel physically, etc.


What it feels like to be me today is, frustrated. I’d feel fine if people would just stop telling me I’ve changed. I’m just me. Most of the time, I don’t know what they’re talking about. Why can’t they realize that I can’t be anyone else? It’s frustrating, and it makes me really angry. Get over it, man. – Jerome
What it feels like to be me today is hopeful. Everything lately has felt really hard, but today I went for a 10 minute walk and I didn’t get tired. That made me feel happy– Anne

2. I wish I could feel this way today instead…
Reminder: Begin with the relaxation technique and date your entry.

It’s sometimes possible to improve your mood and outlook when you write about how you would like to feel. Also, it sometimes helps provide you with a roadmap to get there. Try to include something you’re grateful for.


I want to feel like everyone has accepted the new normal. I guess it just takes time. I’m grateful things aren’t worse. – Jerome

I want to feel like there’s been more progress. There has been. It’s small, but it’s there, and I’m grateful for at least that. – Anne

3. Here’s how my brain injury happened
Reminder: Begin with the relaxation technique and date your entry.

Your brain injury happened as a result of an event. Record as much as you can, in as much detail as you can, about the event as you remember it happening. Begin just before the event took place. Stick to facts; feelings will be covered in the next prompt.


I remember standing at the top of the mountain. It was a beautiful day, and I was excited to ski with my daughters. The next thing I knew, I was laying in a hospital bed. I was told a few weeks had passed since I was at the top of the mountain. I’d had a bad ski accident. I had a long cut on my face that had mostly healed. My chest was sore – they said I’d fractured my sternum. My face looked different in the mirror. They said I’d fractured my occipital bone, so one eye was a little lower than the other. Plus, they told me I’d had two brain hemorrhages in the front of my brain. I felt fine. Maybe I had a little left-side weakness, but that didn’t last long. One day I found my way to the rehabilitation floor on my own. That shocked them. I could cook my own breakfast, too. I was told I’d been in the hospital for more than a month. My brother had been there for two weeks. I don’t remember any of that. Next, I was sent to a rehabilitation centre. I didn’t think that I needed it. I wanted to go home to be with my family.. — Brian

I was reading at home one night and started feeling pain behind my eyes. I thought maybe the lighting was too dim & it hurt my eyes. I got up to turn on lights. I remember thinking that the ache had been there for a couple of weeks, now it felt stabbing. It was weird, but I kept reading. About 15 minutes later, I had to run to the toilet. I vomited. My head was spinning, and I started seeing double. Thank goodness for my husband. He insisted we call the ambulance. The siren was so loud on the way. I kept holding on to my head so it wouldn’t explode. Charles kept his hand over my eyes. It was so warm. The air conditioning when we got in the hospital felt like such a relief. I remember feeling like I could breathe better. Turned out I had a brain aneurysm with a subarachnoid hemorrhage. I was rushed into surgery that saved my life. I got some neurological problems now, but I’m alive.

4. List what you recall feeling during and/or after the event that resulted in your brain injury
Reminder: Begin with the relaxation technique and date your entry.

List what you recall feeling during and/or after the event that resulted in your brain injury. Use the following categories if they apply:

  • Emotional
  • Mental
  • Physical

Physical feelings can be easy to identify and name. Emotions and mental states can be more complicated to identify and name. Here are a few examples of each:

Emotional:     Mad, sad, scared, afraid, peaceful, joyful, happy, overwhelmed, anxious, nervous, cheerful, hopeful, content, proud, optimistic, frustrated, calm, relaxed, curious.

Mental:      Foggy, confused, clear-headed, bewildered, disoriented, fuzzy, dizzy, coherent, alert, lucid, rational, levelheaded, well-oriented, balanced, clear-headed, numb.

Physical:    Tender, sensitive, bruised, achy, sore, tense, tight, nauseous, tingly, burning, prickly, twitchy, shivery, quesy, itchy, shaky, knotted, sweaty, cold, hot, numb.

An important step in telling your story is working to name what you felt and feel. This may come easily to you but if not, be patient with yourself. Give it time, and don’t linger if you find yourself getting distressed or frustrated: you may want to come back to this prompt later and add more.


I can’t remember anything during the accident yet. The nurses say some of it might come back to me eventually.
Right now:

  • Physical: Itchy (leg in a cast), sore (laying in bed). Lower back killing me.
  • Mentally: Lost (can’t remember words a lot, sometimes I can’t sort out what day it is),
  • Emotional: Frustrated and mad for not being more careful. Scared about getting better in my head.

— Andy

How I felt during the accident:

Physical: I totally tensed up and froze when the headlights were coming at me. Then I felt something burning but couldn’t identify what. I felt myself kinda floating. I think that was me passing out.

Emotional: It happened too fast, I think, to be emotional. I was just stunned.

Mentally: Brain-freeze.

Afterward (in the hospital):

Physical:    Dry-mouth, but I was on too many painkillers at first to feel anything.

Emotional:    Kind of a weird peacefulness. A limbo.

Mentally:    Dazed, semi-conscious most of the time.
— Mandy

5. List anything good or positive recall feeling during and/or after the event that resulted in your brain injury
Reminder: Begin with the relaxation technique and date your entry.

List anything good or positive in these categories that you recall feeling during and/or after the event that resulted in your brain injury.


Mentally :


I was and am grateful just to still be alive. Isn’t that the best thing?  – Mandy

My friends have been here for me. – Andy

6. Lost and Found
Reminder: Begin with the relaxation technique and date your entry.

Consider what you’ve lost because of your brain injury and make a list. Write numbers 1-10 and fill in as many as you can.

  1. My car
  2. Bunch of words
  3. My old personality
  4. Memories
  5. Balance (sometimes)
  6. Independence (for now, I hope)

Now consider what you’ve gained or learned because of your brain injury and make a list. Write numbers 1-10 and fill in as many as you can.

  1. The brains complicated
  2. How much my wife loves me
  3. What friends can handle this
  4. Got humble
  5. Better appreciation for my home
7. Dialogue: Have a conversation with your brain about what caused your injury
Reminder: Begin with the relaxation technique and date your entry.

Dialogue is a journaling technique that has been utilized by journaling experts such as Ira Progroff and Kathleen Adams. The technique is having a (written) dialogue with an issue, subject, emotion, or person, and you ‘play’ both parts.

The technique can feel awkward at first, like talking to yourself. But trust the process: use your imagination, and stick with it. It will become more comfortable as you practice.

Begin writing by asking a question. Use the word “what” rather than “why.” This way, you’re prompting yourself to provide an answer and thus begins the two-way written dialogue.  Keep the conversation going as long as you can.


ME:  I’ve made that move a million times in my (hockey) career. What the hell happened?

CRASH: The circumstances were just right for your helmet to fly off and you to hit the boards in that way.

ME:  Could I have avoided it? Was it my fault?

CRASH:  No. It didn’t just involve you. Other players were part of the circumstance.

— Stan

8. Who are you now?
Reminder: Begin with the relaxation technique and date your entry.

Write out what you know for sure about yourself at that given moment. Are you tall or short? A parent or a sibling? Employed? In therapy? These are details that can help ground you in your journaling and your day.


I’m still a woman, Mom, single, daughter. Hard to be a good friend right now. I’m a patient in rehab. I’m not sure of much more than that, but I’m working on it. Guess that means I’m determined.
— Beth

9. Who do you want to become?
Reminder: Begin with the relaxation technique and date your entry.

I’m thinking this means goals, maybe. So, independent – employable – nice. That’s good for now.
—   Jamie

More suggested journaling prompts
  • I will…
  • I feel…
  • I believe…
  • I won’t…
  • I can’t…
  • I can…
  • Yesterday was…
  • I’m most worried about……
  • My goal is…
  • I always feel sad when…
  • I always feel happy when…
  • I have recovered from…
  • I am getting better at…
  • I can’t help thinking about…..
  • It’s okay to keep thinking about…
  • My family is driving me crazy because…
  • My family takes good care of me by…
  • I have recovered from…
  • I believe in miracles because…
  • I am grateful for…
  • I am losing my temper because…
  • I am tired of…
  • I will be more positive because…
  • When things don’t go my way, I will…
  • A dream I had last night was…
  • I wish I could explain…
  • I understand that…
  • In the future, I will…

“In my journal, I don’t just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.”
—    Susan Sontag

NOTE: Examples are based on some facts but are primarily fictional to protect people’s privacy. The names are fictional as well [1].

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