Journaling your way through cancer

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journaling through cancer.JPGBy Crystal McCown, social work counselor fellow

Navigating your way through a cancer journey can be tough. It can be hard to find time to care for your body, spirit and mind.

Journaling is one way patients can care for themselves. Writing down your thoughts gives you an opportunity to work out your feelings and emotions, which may help you relax and find reasons to be happier and more hopeful about the future.

Methods of journaling
There are many different types of journaling. Here are a few you might want to explore:

  • Gratitude journaling: Write down everything you're grateful for. This focuses your attention on positive aspects of your life.
  • Blog: A blog is a website that you can easily update by writing short posts.  Blog posts can be as simple as commentary on your day-to-day life and treatment, or reflection pieces exploring your life's purpose or connecting with a higher power.
  • Stream-of-consciousness writing: Write down everything that comes to your mind. This unstructured, unedited writing will reflect your raw thoughts and observations.
  • Art journaling: Draw, doodle or scrapbook what you're feeling and thinking.
  • Line-a-day journaling: Limit yourself to a single line or sentence for the day.

Benefits of journaling
There's no wrong way to journal. Research shows that taking as little as 20 minutes a month for 3 months, to write, will produce long lasting benefits to your physical and emotional health.

Journaling can help you sleep better, reduce fatigue and help you adjust psychologically to a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

  • Look for the positive: Journaling can help you identify positive situations or events that have unfolded due to your cancer diagnosis. You may have been reunited with a loved one, received an outpouring of support from friends, co-workers and family, or been able to warn others about dangerous lifestyle habits. Documenting these areas in writing may help you explore and appreciate them more.
  • Look for what you can control: Journaling can also help you map out and decide what things you can and do have control over and how you can use that knowledge in your life. 
  • Find peace in your relationships: Journaling privately can even help with your day-to-day social interactions. Disclosing your deepest feelings in writing might prepare you to have a difficult conversation with a loved one, or it might allow you to simply enjoy your time together without worrying about nagging negative thoughts.
Tips for journaling
Think about these tips when you start journaling.

  • Journal for yourself. There is no wrong way to do it as long as it is beneficial to you.
  • Find a quiet space. Make sure you journal during a time you know you won't be interrupted for at least 20 minutes. Find a safe, secure and comfortable area to work.
  • Protect your thoughts and writings. If writing by hand, keep your journal in a safe spot where someone won't spill something on it or read your thoughts without your consent. If you are typing your journal, password protect the document to keep it away from prying eyes. 
  • Don't worry about grammar, spelling or sentence structure. No one will read this without your consent, so it doesn't have to be perfect. Focus on the subject of your writing: What are you feeling? What thoughts come to mind as you recall these events? What do you want to make sure you don't forget?
  • Seek professional help. If journaling about experiences and emotions leaves you more upset than relieved, meet with a social worker or mental health professional and use your journal to introduce what's bothering you. If you're receiving cancer treatment at MD Anderson, reach out to your assigned social worker for additional guidance and help.
If you have more questions or would like more information about journaling, contact the Department of Social Work at 713-792-6195 or visit the website.

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