Writing for Wellness: Keeping a Journal
When facing a serious illness like cancer, anyone can find it difficult to express personal feelings to others and sort through complicated emotions. If you find yourself in that position, one safe and private way to do both is to write in a journal. Keeping a journal allows you to come to terms with your situation at your own pace and in your own way, potentially helping you regain a sense of control in your life.
“Our culture seldom allows us to voice our real feelings,” said Sandi Stromberg, who has facilitated several journaling sessions at MD Anderson’s Place … of wellness. “So I encourage patients and caregivers to process what they are experiencing—to write down their anger and sadness, their frustrations and fears. I also suggest they write down three gratitudes at the end of the day, even if it’s something as small as a good cup of coffee or less traffic on the road.”
Research has shown that writing about stressful experiences, such as illness, may boost patients’ health and psychological well-being. When people confront and work through an experience, they understand it more clearly. This can improve coping and sleep quality, reduce stress, and enhance social interactions, all of which result in a better quality of life.
How do I start journaling?
Follow the steps below to help you get started.
Once you are comfortable journaling, do not limit yourself to certain days or times. Journal whenever you have time or when you feel it can help you the most. Some people find it helpful to journal while waiting for appointments, as it helps to calm nerves and pass the time.
What should I write?
If you find yourself staring at the blank page without knowing how to start, write “I don’t know what to write” over and over. Eventually, other words will come. Another way to begin the writing process is to try writing stories about your past. For example, you can journal about your first car or your experiences on your first day of school. You might record the unexpected humor of daily life or simply insights and observations. Don’t feel pressured to tell the whole story—you can always expand on the bits and pieces you choose at a later time.
“I give patients and caregivers suggestions for topics during our sessions to remind them they were fully functional people with productive lives before cancer,” Ms. Stromberg said. “It’s so easy for them to tell about who they are in terms of their illness when the truth is that they are and have been so much more. Journaling helps them remember that.”
If writing does not come naturally to you, try making lists of things that come easily to mind, such as:
For more information on this topic or for questions about MD Andersons treatments, programs, or services, call askMDAnderson at (877) MDA-6789.
Other articles in OncoLog, September 2010 issue: