I am a big journaling fan. You might even call me a journal addict!
As a matter of fact, as I sit here, I am surrounded by 1…2…3…..no…6 (!) journals that I use on a daily basis!
They aren’t all for journaling my thoughts, mind you. I have a daily planner to help me plan posts for my FB group “Attitude of Gratitude with Chronic Pain“, I have one that I use exclusively to jot down ideas for the book that I’m writing, I have one that I use for notes for my weekly live broadcast, “Gratefully Living the Chronic Life” (AoG), I have one that I use to keep notes for my medical issues, and I have one I use for this website.
But the one I want to talk about today is my favorite one and the one I would like to encourage you all to think about starting. I use it specifically for quotes that I hear and love and for ideas that pop into my head and inspire me. I use it to document my days, thoughts, dreams, joys, fears, hopes, and, of course, GRATITUDE. This is MY journal and the one that helps me on this journey into wellness and wholehearted living. This is the one that I would love to see you all have for yourselves.
My entire life’s work and passion revolves around helping others to deal in healthy ways with the emotional pain and despair that comes along with living with chronic pain and illness. This is an avenue that most doctors do not help us with when we get a diagnosis or become injured. Having hit a rock bottom 8 years ago and working so hard to not only dig myself out but to go on to live my best life ever, I consider myself an expert on this subject.
Normally we go to the doctor, speak with her/him, and walk away with at least one prescription in hand to help us with the physical part of what we’re dealing with. That part is taken care of through them and we don’t have a lot of control over it other than to listen to them and follow our own intuition based on what they say and what we research ourselves.
But the problem is, it doesn’t end there. Not even close! Those of us who live with it know full well that the emotional pain that comes along with living with these conditions can be far worse than the physical pain that we endure. No medical doctor or specialist that I have ever had has given me ideas or suggestions on how to deal with that.
Living with a chronic condition of any kind causes ANXIETY. Even if we never had it prior to our diagnoses, anxiety rears it’s ugly head and takes a toll on us in a big way. It can often feel impossible to live with.
Where does it come from? It doesn’t feel good and is very uncomfortable.
Our first reaction to pain is ANXIETY. And although we normally associate anxiety in a negative light, it is actually there to protect us. When we are fearful or feel threatened, anxiety kicks in and tells us to take action and do something about it!
Think about our basic needs: water, food, air….if any of that is taken away from us or compromised at any time, anxiety and fear kicks in and we do everything in our power to solve the problem.
This is what happens with our pain. When living with pain, our bodies go into panic mode and tell us to do something about it! But when living with a chronic condition, we are “trapped” in a way and there is very little action we can take to help ourselves get out of it. THIS leads to more anxiety that can stay with us for the long-haul.
So what DO we have control over in regards to this?
Well, we can join a community (like AoG!) and connect with others who understand and can relate to what we live with, we can do deep breathing and meditation exercises to help us calm our nerves, and we can journal.
It is studied and well-documented that keeping a journal is a wonderful stress management tool. It helps us to release our pent-up emotions and gives them less power over us so we can accept them and move on with our lives.
Journaling does NOT have to be a lengthy or a labor-intensive process. Some of us (like me!) enjoy writing. Some of us do not. There is no right or wrong way to journal just like there is no right or wrong way to deal with your chronic condition. It doesn’t require anything fancy other than some kind of notebook and your writing instrument of choice. If writing by hand is not possible for you, use your trusty computer.
Here are some ideas of what kinds of things to write in your journal to help you on your path to reducing anxiety and promoting your wellness:
- List your worries Worries can seem ENDLESS when living with a chronic condition: “What will I be like in 10 years?” “Will I need someone to care for me?” “How will I pay for my treatments?” The list goes on and on. Write your worries down in your journal. By writing them down, it takes away their tremendous power and helps us to move on rather than ruminate on them. Wake up in the middle of the night with a worry? Write it in your journal! Quite often when we go back and read the things we previously worried about they don’t seem as dire as they did when we originally wrote them down. Not only that, for me….if I don’t write down my worries, they will play on a continuous loop in my head making it seem like there are more than there actually are. By writing them down at any given time, I’ll see that I actually only had 3 worries that day rather than the 557 that I thought I had! lol
- List your GRATITUDES This one should come as no surprise that I would list as I’m a big proponent for embracing an attitude of GRATITUDE. We are hard-wired to focus on the negative aspects of our days and the good things and blessings that come before us go on the backburner. By writing them down, our GRATITUDES can take the place that they deserve right at the top of the list. In his book “Gratitude Works,” guru of GRATITUDE, Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis states, “Gratitude journaling promotes the savoring of positive life experiences and situations so that we can distill the maximum satisfaction and enjoyment from them. This promotes a shift in consciousness from what we are lacking to the abundance that surrounds us.“ This is the reason why we have such success in AoG with those coming to the group to reduce the anxiety and stress they find themselves having. By listing our GRATITUDES on a regular basis, we realize that there is so much in life to be GRATEFUL for….even when living a life of chronic pain and illness.
- Write down your INTENTIONS This one should also come as no surprise for those of you who are familiar with my work or who belong to AoG! I like to think of intentions as goals, but without the pressure. These are things that you intend to do, therefore if you aren’t able to fulfill them…it’s ok! When you live with a chronic condition, it’s impossible to know how your day is going to progress. You could be having a great morning that turns into an afternoon of struggle. Or you can wake up in a lot of pain and unable to physically do too much, but by the afternoon you’re able to do a bit more. Intentions give us that leeway while also giving us a necessary roadmap (written in pencil) that provides us with a purpose for our day. That purpose helps to reduce our anxiety and depression over things or abilities that we lost that we may have been able to do in the past. We DO have purpose….it’s just different now.
- List your lessons learned Every day we learn new things about ourselves and about how to make our lives more pleasurable despite the pain. Belonging to a group like “Attitude of Gratitude with Chronic Pain” provides us with an enormous amount of ideas from others who, like us, live with physical and emotional struggle each and every day…ALL day. The internet is filled with articles by wonderful writers who so selflessly provide us with ideas for what has worked for them on their journey with chronic pain. Since my memory isn’t what it used to be, I like to keep my journal with me at all times so I can quickly write down ideas that I’ve heard from my fellow pain comrades or from the lessons I’ve learned from the mistakes I’ve made along the way. Progress….not perfection, right? I consider myself a lifelong learner and I love that!
- List things that inspire you and/or give you JOY! I LOVE quotes. A good quote can completely turn around my day! I think that’s why I post so many in my group….I feel like even if it affects one person the way it affected me, that’s a success! So I write those down. But perhaps quotes don’t do much for you! Start paying attention to the things that make you happy and bring you JOY. Your favorite songs…..your favorite episodes of tv shows….maybe you are creative and love to knit or make things with your hands. Post pics of them in your journal or just write about them! That way, when anxiety kicks in you can turn to your happiness journal and remind yourself of all of the things that you have experienced in life that make you happy. I love writing down when I get a great compliment from someone. We often forget things like that, especially when the “Negative Nellys” start popping into our lives (and they sure do!) Many people use their journals for their art and do sketches, paintings, or drawings. I am NOT artistic enough to do that, but the point is to keep a journal of all things that fill your heart with JOY. What a beautiful gift that can be to yourself!
- Make it a free-for-all journal! This is pretty much what I do. I use all of the above and just write it down as it comes to me. I write my thoughts, my ideas, things I’m GRATEFUL for, quotes that I heard that inspire me, intentions, articles from newspapers that speak to me, doodles, things that I’m proud of for doing that day, …..you get the drift. I have fun looking back on them from time to time to see where my head was on that particular day. Plus, I forget things….so looking back at them is helpful to remind me of that amazing quote I read or to remind myself that I accomplished something pretty cool that day! In my journal I have photos, receipts from great things I experienced, stickers, quotes, movies that people recommend to me (I ALWAYS forget them if I don’t write them down!), major events that happened on that particular day….the sky’s the limit!
Do not feel daunted. Nobody is going to read this journal….it is yours and yours alone. Nobody is checking your spelling. Nobody is critiquing your handwriting or your grammar. It exists simply as a way for you to love yourself and exercise self-care. Writing in a journal is a mindful activity that exists between you, your pencil, and your paper. It slows us down enough to have us think about our day and our lives without anything else interfering. It is good for our emotional health which, in turn, helps us with our overall wellness. We deserve that and are more than worthy of it.
Plus it’s FUN!
Do you have to do it every day? No. Does it require a lot of time? No. Do you have to buy a bunch of stuff? No. There are no rules.
But THIS is something that you have control over in regards to your health and is such a simple thing to do. Create a designated space and maybe even a designated time for yourself to do your journaling. I have a candle next to me when I write to make my space feel cozy and safe. It helps!
Make it whatever you want to make it. Words are your FUEL and you can add as much in as you’d like or as you feel like you want to give on any given day. Keeping a journal can make a difference between us being chronic pain ‘survivors’ and turning us into chronic ‘THRIVERS!’
All you have to do is start and NOW is as good a time as any.