It’s an accepted fact that cancer can affect your mental health. Like most life-altering events, you are likely to need positive coping mechanisms to face a cancer diagnosis, treatment and life after cancer.
Journaling has been gaining popularity in recent times as a way to deal with pent up emotions, discovering suppressed feelings and coping with difficult situations. In this blog post, we look at why you should journal and how to go about it.
Why you should journal
Research shows that venting your feelings can have a relaxing effect. Expressing your sadness, disappointment, frustration and anger can have the effect of reducing the intensity of these feelings.
It may not always be possible to find someone to share all your feelings with. Sometimes you may not feel ready to share how you feel with others, even with close family and friends. Journaling provides a good alternative for those seeking to express themselves in private, without the fear of judgement.
Helps you understand yourself better
Keeping a log of your thoughts and feelings, helps you identify repeated patterns. For example, if you find yourself repeatedly expressing worries about an upcoming medical test or scan, then you know that these can be triggers for you. You can inform your family and friends about this and request that someone you are comfortable with accompany you to these tests to make the process less stressful. You could also plan a treat like some shopping, or a visit to the park after your test or scan so that you have something positive to look forward to.
Improves your mood
Making note of every small positive thing that happens in your day, can create a sense of gratitude. This could be a call from a friend, or finding an old photograph. Noting it down and remembering it can help you improve your mood and also encourages your mind to keep looking for the positive aspects of daily life.
Research suggests that journaling even for 20 minutes in a month can reduce your stress levels. In a technique called ‘brain dump’, participants were encouraged to write down everything on their mind, till their mind felt empty and calm. It need not be full sentences, or correct spellings, just words, and even drawings would help. It was found that this exercise helped reduce distress and improve relaxation.
How to Journal
It’s said that there is no wrong way of journaling, but there can be a different way that works for different people. Some may prefer to just write down what is worrying them, while others may need prompts.
Prompts are questions or suggestions that help us journal when we do not know what to write about. Here are some examples:
Who inspires you and why?
Write 20 things that you enjoy doing.
What is one quality you really like in you / your partner / your friend?
Here are some more tips to help you journal better:
Keep your journal protected
If you are worried about someone reading your journal, then there are many ways to prevent that. There are online websites that allow you to maintain password protected journals. A simple way to ensure no one reads your journal is to simply delete everything you have typed, or tear up the pages after you have written them.
Knowing that your thoughts are safe will encourage you to journal more honestly.
Don’t monitor yourself
When interacting with others, we constantly monitor what we say so that we are viewed in a positive way. We may not say something very rude or impolite if we think that is a bad thing to do. As a result many negative thoughts may remain suppressed in our mind.
Your journal is a safe place to express emotions that you may be ashamed of, like jealousy and hatred. Often expressing these emotions leads to a feeling of relief and the emotions themselves diminish in power.
Feel free to journal in a rude or impolite manner so that you purge yourself of all the negative thoughts and feelings.
Don’t worry about grammar and spelling
Since no one else is going to be reading your journal, you don’t have to worry about making sense to others. Allow yourself to write incomplete sentences, incorrect spelling and switch between languages if that feels comfortable to you.
Set a time
To journal more regularly, find the right time to do it daily. Some like to journal just before bedtime as it helps them sleep better, while others prefer to journal in the morning when starting their day.
Attaching your journaling habit to another habit that is already formed helps maintain regularity. For example, if you are in the habit of drinking a cup of tea in the afternoon, then journaling soon after your tea each day will help you maintain the habit of journaling.
While journaling can have a lot of benefits, there will be times when you need further help. If you are constantly suffering from sleeplessness, disturbed sleep, overwhelming feelings of sadness, or isolation, it might help to speak with a counsellor. There are counsellors who specialise in helping patients and caregivers with cancer-related problems. They will be able to assist you on your path to recovery and wellbeing. Read our article on why cancer patients and caregivers need counselling to know more.
For more ideas on coping with cancer, see our step by step guide.