Over the past decade, the use of alternative therapies to help manage chronic illnesses, stress and depression have gained more widespread acceptance. Art therapy, music therapy and pet therapy are now standard in many group homes and senior living communities. Another form of therapy that is gaining in recognition is journaling. The therapeutic power of getting your thoughts down on paper has now been linked to everything from decreasing depression to better stress management. Family caregivers of a loved one living with a disability or chronic illness: writing can help to express the fears, sadness and stress that role creates in your daily life.
The Statistics on Journaling
In April, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an interesting study on the importance of writing about what is really getting you down. It showed how 47% of patients with the chronic health conditions of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) cited improvements in their physical and emotional well-being after writing about the most traumatic event in their lives. By contrast those who journaled only about everyday activities and events had only a 24% improvement. The message from the study was that writing about what really hurts can be difficult, but it can have a positive effect on both the physical and emotional health of caregivers.
Advice for Caregivers Starting a Journal
Author Dr. James Pennebaker suggests a simple five-step process for beginning journalers in his book, Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval. He states:
- Write for 20 minutes per day for four days.
- Write about a major conflict or stressor in your life, something personal and important; you can write about the same one four times, or write about different ones.
- Write without stopping; don’t worry about spelling and grammar.
- Write this for your eyes only.
- If writing about something makes you unbearably upset, stop.
After you’ve made it through this process, you can move on to develop your own style of journaling. Most experts suggest a stream of consciousness journal. They recommend just using a plain spiral notebook so you won’t feel like the contents have to be pretty. Then just write whatever comes to mind. Don’t filter your thoughts or worry about polishing your grammar. When you first start writing each day, you will probably find the first few minutes of your time will be spent documenting the activities of your day. Once you relax, your subconscious will take over and you will find yourself writing about your real struggles, fears and emotions from the day.