Journaling for Wellness – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck

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Many of you have likely heard of keeping a “pain diary” or a “health journal” to keep track of symptoms, but did you also know that keeping any kind of journal or diary, in general, can be beneficial to your health & well-being?

It’s true. Writing can help you get in touch with your inner self, channel positive thoughts, reduce stress, and improve your overall sense of well-being.

A gratitude journal is one great way to keep things in perspective. Each day, you write down a few things that you are grateful for. You’ll begin to find that there’s always something to be thankful for, even in the midst of pain and sickness.

Additionally, just journaling seemingly mundane thoughts is a great way to get those creative juices flowing — and you may find yourself a new hobby; a hobby that takes your mind off of your condition.

Writing in a journal can also help you set — and stick to — goals, as well as enabling you to better cope with feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression. “Journaling is a technique often used in counseling to help clients identify problematic thoughts and behaviors. While clients are usually aware that things are not going well in their lives, they often are not able to identify or explain factors that are contributing to their life problems. Used effectively, journaling can help make clients aware of problems that they have not yet identified and provide clients with new insights into problems they are already working to resolve (Gladding, 2001).” According to VISTAS Online, bnefits from wellness journaling activities are: 1) journaling encourages appropriate release of emotions, 2) journaling encourages self-analysis, 3) journaling improves critical thinking skills, and 4) journaling improves communication skills.

But, it doesn’t have to be that technical! You don’t have to use your journal as a way to track physical ailments or as a tool to be used for your mental health. You can just use it to write whatever you want!

Acording to Kripalu.org’s “Write Your Way to Wellness” program:

“For 25 years there has been evidence-based research conducted on the correlation between writing down stressful life experiences and positive physiological changes. These benefits can include increased immune-system functioning, symptom reduction in disease severity, and a sense of release and closure from troubling events of the past. Here are 10 reasons why writing it down helps, each with a writing prompt to help you get started.

  1. Immediacy and availability.A journal is available at 3 am, during a migraine, in the doctor’s waiting room, when no one on your support list is at home. A journal’s immediacy lessens the need to rely on the kindness of strangers or the patience of health-care professionals, family, and friends.Describe some of the times when you’ve desperately wished you had someone to talk to.
  2. Catharsis and insight.The important work of healing often brings with it a host of perfectly normal but difficult feelings—anger, fear, despair, frustration. Your journal absorbs these feelings without judgment, censure, or reprisal, and the insight gained from catharsis is an important step in healing.What feeling is the most difficult for you to understand or express right now? Blast away—incomplete sentences or bullet-point lists are perfectly fine!
  3. Unconditional acceptance and silent friend. As one journal-keeper said, “My journal has become the archetypal friend. I have used and abused it more than any person would have tolerated. But it was always there waiting for me, totally accepting, totally present. I could ignore it, discount its value, and it never took offense. I never had to start over. I never had to apologize. What a blessed gift!”Write a letter to someone who has offered unconditional acceptance to you—no matter how long ago it was.
  4. Observe health-enhancing cycles and patterns.Our habitual behaviors either promote wellness or contribute to discomfort and disease. Observing behaviors through charts, logs, or reflections offers valuable data that can be used to maximize wellness.Which of your habits promote wellness? Which contribute to discomfort or disease? Divide a page in two vertically and make two lists.
  5. Get to know different parts of yourself.Learning to listen to and communicate with your bodymind, Inner Healer, dream symbols, and other energetic aspects of the Self is one of the great gifts of journalkeeping.Close your eyes and imagine your healthier Self. What does s/he look like? Feel like? What are his/her habits? Jot notes, or write a character sketch or profile.
  6. Strengthen intuition and inner guidance.It is simply amazing how much wisdom we hold within us, and how reliably we can access it just by turning inward, asking sincere questions, listening, and writing down what we hear.Experiment with this by posing an open-ended question to your intuition, then sitting in silence until you feel an inner prompting. Then write down a response.
  7. Expand creativity. Once initial discomfort and resistance to writing is overcome, you may find that writing can be a reassuring, nurturing, safe, creative outlet for thoughts and feelings. This increased flexibility with the creative process often leads to spontaneous brainstorming of options and choices for wellness.After you’ve completed the intuition exercise in example six, brainstorm a list of 10 creative ways you could advance the answer you received. Don’t hold back! Anticipate surprises.
  8. Self-empowerment and self-esteem.Journal writing encourages self-reliance and self-responsibility. The healing journey is literally mapped out, one page at a time, and the accumulation of life experience and wisdom adds up to the recognition that we are, in fact, the predominant creative forces in our own lives.How do you empower yourself in your healing journey?
  9. Release past hurts and judgments.Holding on to the past is a sure-fire energy drain. Resentment, guilt, blame, and bottled-up grief block access to the Healer Within. The safe container of your journal receives it all, filling up and becoming more in the process, and prepares you to release old wounds to extend forgiveness to yourself and others.What past hurts and judgments would you like to release and forgive? Write a rant—let yourself blow off steam and be socially inappropriate.
  10. Witness to healing.The journal provides an ongoing record of the healing journey. Months and years down the road you can look back at past volumes to assure yourself that you are making progress, that you are able to master wellness principles, and that you can heal.Date your page one year from today and let your healthier Self write you a letter.”

    According to the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Myofascial Pain Syndrome: A Survival Manual, “Journaling can get you in touch with your inner self. You can work through issues, see patterns and changes as you grow, and can go back and reread events instead of relying on memories that can mislead. Plus, it is easier to put your ideas and feelings down on paper and work them through, you can chart clearer paths, and question yourself to find the true answers. Journaling can be a record of your life, one that is perfect for seeing certain behavior patterns with your chronic pain.”

    Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Robin Smith suggest keeping a, “Who Am I?” journal.

    “Who am I? It’s a lifelong question. It’s not about labels—”I’m a mom,” or “I’m a good employee”, or “I’m a Christian.” It’s, “When I was born, what was the plan for my life?”

    Dr. Robin suggests writing in your discovery journal every night. Concentrate on moving beyond labels and appearances.

    “If you work on the question—Who am I?—every day you’ll start recognizing that this is the very question you’ve been avoiding,” Dr. Robin says, even if you only write, “I don’t know.”

    Prior to starting this journal, you’ve stopped yourself from feeling. This is about getting those feelings to return. It’s going to be a struggle and confusing to really start pondering, “Who am I?” but don’t minimize what could happen if you make a commitment every night to be writing something about who you are.

    The “Who Am I?” Journal does not need to be exclusively about your failures, mistakes and missteps. Keep in mind good things about yourself that will balance your answer to the essential question in your journal.”

    Of course, blogging is also an option if you’d like to “share” your journal or diary with the public.

    So — get writing! If arthritis or pain keep you from writing in a journal, there are some options available to help.

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    Try Dragon Dictate software for a PC, or Mac Dictate for a Mac, and “talk” your thoughts to your computer. You can also buy ergonomic keyboards and computer mice to make typing a little easier. If you are keen on using a traditional journaling method, Dr. Grip makes arthritis-friendly pens and there are other kinds of assistive devices for pens and pencils to make writing a little more comfortable. The Arthritis Foundation lists some of them, here: “The Write Stuff.”

    Start small – and just keep doing it! Author Julia Cameron of “The Writing Diet” says that getting started is the hardest part.

    So, go buy a journal, or grab a notebook, or open up Microsoft Word and get writing! You never know what you’ll discover about yourself….and your health.

    Stay Well,

    Ashley Boynes-Shuck

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