“J” is for Journaling

Greetings! It has been six weeks since my last blog post. Here’s a snapshot as to why the Wellness ABC’s features “J” for Journaling: On June 21st after many days of temps in the 90’s much of Flagstaff went to “Set” mode in the “Ready, Set, Go” wildfire evacuation protocol. That meant we had to put our ‘bug out plan’ into action and fast. Our vehicles were loaded with things we might need to evacuate our home for at least a week, but maybe more. For days the air was filled with smoke, falling ash, cooled but charred embers, and blackened oak leaves that had traveled to us on the updrafts. The Rafael wildfire was fully contained on July 15th.

Then the monsoon rain started. While we were not directly affected by the flood waters that were featured on national TV, the violent storms resulted in power failures on a day my 91-year-old mom was in a health crisis. Next day, I got news that I have a medical condition that puts me at risk for severe breathing challenges. The COVID-19 delta variant arrived in Arizona, and despite my strict protocols, I found myself with odd symptoms. The covid test was negative, but I got in a minor car accident on my way to the test site; REALLY?? Any of these things on their own might put me into stress mode but I am doing ok. My Journal Entry July 30, 2021: Despite the endless parade of apparently bizarre and difficult events, I feel an inner peace lately that seems out of pace with what might be my usual response. Bottom line: journaling helps to keep me sane during times of difficulty and challenge. It might be helpful for you too!

There are various ways that we can practice wellness through journaling. First, we must choose a journal. It can be a bound book, spiral notebook, three ring binder, artist pad, or even a legal pad! There are plenty of journals to be found in bookstores, gift shops, and on the internet. Some are very plain, with lined or unlined pages; some include quotes or prompts to inspire your words. Look for a journal that appeals to your personality and sense of aesthetics. After choosing your journal, you can begin to write, draw, or collage your thoughts, feelings, and experiences onto the pages. Ideally, journaling time should be time set aside just for YOU. Comforting, exciting, peaceful, or passionate energies can be released in the writing process. Choose a quiet time and place; get comfortable and start writing!

The benefits of keeping a personal journal are numerous. Releasing things that may be a source of fear, stress, embarrassment, or other worrisome emotions out of your mind and onto the page is cleansing and will leave room for more energy toward living your life in wellness. The University of Rochester Medical Center’s Health Encyclopedia even includes “Journaling” as a way to support mental health. Keeping a journal will help you to prioritize challenges and action steps, reduce stress, and cope with sadness. A personal journal can include many different musings, styles, and themes, based on what life is presenting at the time you are writing.

  • Keeping a journal to track new projects or new life chapters helps you to observe and measure your progress with goal setting; celebrate your achievements; or to reconsider, restructure, or reboot projects that need adjustments.
  • Reviewing past journal entries offers a “hindsight 20/20” view of your past experiences, and can help to inspire new activities or behaviors that support your wellness.
  • Do you sometimes look for clues about life by opening a spiritual book for a message, or exploring your situation through tarot or other means? Your conclusions can find a place in your journal.
  • When faced with important decisions, using your journal for a pros and cons list may help you to see more clearly how to proceed.
  • When you feel a need for support or advice, you can journal about potential allies and helpers. Who are they? What do you value about their presence in your life? How would you reach out to ask for support; how would you say: “thank you”?
  • When faced with a relationship challenge, use your personal journal to chronicle the event, express your feelings about what has happened, identify a need to make amends, ask for forgiveness, or just to let it go.
  • Journaling can be great for daydreaming too; what are you dreaming up for the future? How does it feel, look, sound?
  • Of particular use is a Gratitude Journal! Keeping one for 30 days will help to form the attitude of gratitude as a habit. Keeping one for 90 days will anchor gratitude as a constant.
  • Journaling with your partner, spouse, child, or companion can be an enriching experience for both parties. It will also spark discussion on topics that might otherwise be forgotten or put aside due to life’s daily demands. Keep the shared journal in a place where both people can access it for entries and/or reading. Create some guidelines about timing for writing and reading individually and/or together.

For those who are navigating illness and/or intensive medical treatments such as chemotherapy, keeping a journal can help to alleviate acute and chronic stress. Journaling in a daily way is a good practice. That is more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule because some days, when we are not feeling well, even journaling can seem like too much of a burden. Be easy on yourself if that happens. In situations of a long treatment process or chronic illness, consider having a journal that is just for recording your medical experience. I have noticed great benefit to patients who track their doctor visits, medications, and other general health notes during treatment protocols. Writing about the process is both self-supportive and self-empowering. The result is a record that can be useful to patients, caregivers, and medical staff. Patients might also choose to have a separate “Happiness Journal” or personal journal to record life events not related to the treatment process. Caregivers, you will benefit from journaling too. Time with your journal may provide moments in a full day that are exclusively and truly for and about you.

Recording notes about our lives in a formal way is becoming a more widely accepted practice. This is called legacy journaling. I have worked with patients to create legacy letters to be opened by family members or friends upon the patient’s death. The letters can be long or short and include things like family tree information; funny or touching moments in the patient’s life; their favorite jokes, foods, or places; words of wisdom and more. I have been present when some of the letters are opened. This kind of gift brings immeasurable gratitude to the recipients. A more comprehensive project is the legacy journal. There are plenty to choose from. I found that This Life of Mine – A Legacy Journal by Anne Phyfe Palmer to be beautiful; so is the reason she wrote the book.

We live in precarious times: pandemic, inflation, climate change, homelessness, hunger, injustice. Add in personal struggles: caregiving, isolation, financial woes, health challenges, grieving. Need I say more? Journaling can help provide a comfy cushion for some of this turbulence. I hope you will give it a try!

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