The art of self-care is sometimes all too easily lost with many caregivers. Those who pour out their time, resources, and hearts caring for someone else often forget to take the time to tend to their own personal needs.
Journaling has been a form of self-care used in many scenarios with promising benefits. Stuckey and Nobel report in The American Journal of Public Health that researchers have concluded that there are both psychological and physical health benefits to expressive writing.
Keeping a diary to express one’s thoughts and feelings is a great idea for both family and professional caregivers to release stress and better cope. Here are some reasons why and tips for getting started.
Freedom is found in journaling
Caregiving is known for being a demanding endeavor. Whether a person is a family or professional caregiver, free time and money are often in short supply. There may be no extra hours or funds for appointments with a therapist. Yet the release available through journaling only costs the price of the journal and a pen or pencil. What is more, journaling can be done at a desk, on the kitchen table, on a park bench, or while waiting in a doctor’s waiting room.
There is no right or wrong way to journal. One can write about anything he or she chooses. There is no one to stand behind, correcting spelling or grammar mistakes. Journaling gives the person the freedom to express anything in his or her mind or heart.
In a journal, one can:
- Gripe and complain
- Express fears and doubts
- Discover and confront emotions
- Express gratitude
- Say things one wouldn’t feel comfortable saying out loud
- “Talk” back to one’s self, saying the things one needs to “hear,” like:”You’re doing a great job”; “You really handled that well,” or “Next time it might work better to try scheduling a fewer number of stops along the way.”
The French say that paper and pen are tireless confidants. With paper before one and pen in hand, a person is free to express any and all feelings to a sympathetic listener who never gets weary of paying attention.
Barbara Stahura is a certified journal facilitator through the Center for Journal Therapy.
Stahura discovered journaling after helping her mother get through an almost fatal stroke as well as her own battle with cancer. Her husband later suffered from a traumatic brain injury that left him in the hospital and rehab for weeks. Journaling helped her to avoid caregiver burnout, be more emotionally available to others, and less prone to give in to fear during those challenging times. It made such a beneficial difference in her life that she went on to devote her career to helping others discover the well-being that journaling offers caregivers.
Benefits of journaling
Scholars and scientists affirm that journaling brings multiple benefits. Journaling spans multiple applications because it is a holistic approach that focuses on self-expression. Journaling provides a healthy way to cope with the stress associated with caregiving because it allows a person to process what they are going through and how he or she feels in a much more organized way than just thinking about it.
Self-expression is an often overlooked aspect of coping with stress, and caregiving can sometimes leave little room for it, but self-expression is a key component for processing the world around one and even one’s own identity.
Self-expression is so powerful that when the National Institutes of Health decided to look further into its benefits in a clinical capacity, they found it accomplished more than they originally thought it would. Participants in the studies saw benefits beyond those of emotional and cognitive improvements. Patients with fibromyalgia experienced a decrease in pain, fatigue, expressions of anger, and an improvement of overall psychological well-being. HIV patients experienced an improvement in their white blood cell count, which translates to a stronger immune system.
Ways to get started journaling
Writing down personal thoughts and emotions might not come easily for some people. Here are a few phrases to get started and questions to ask yourself:
- Today I feel…
- What is on my mind most right now?
- I am grateful for…
- I wish…
- I am angry because…
Journaling is even beneficial for organizing thoughts by simply jotting down events that have happened that day or even hoped-for outcomes of pressing circumstances. Prayers for one’s self or the loved one under one’s care can be recorded.
There are no limits to what is put in a personal diary. Sketches can be drawn and poems written.
The conjunction of health and the art of writing has been around for thousands of years and spans many civilizations. The two often cross paths within communities and even families. Children make cards for sick loved ones and spouses write letters to each other to express love and concern.
There is something fundamental about written self-expression that researchers do not fully comprehend yet. As more research is conducted to solidify the validity of expressive art, including expressive writing, caregivers can begin achieving a greater sense of emotional, mental, and physical health through journaling. This may, in turn, improve the lives of those in their care.
Stahura, Barbara. Certified Journal Facilitator. Available at http://www.barbarastahura.com/index.html . Last Visited April 22, 2016.
Stuckey, H., and Nobel, J. (February 2010). The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. American Journal of Public Health, 100(2): 254-263. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/. Last Visited April 19, 2016.