by Maud Purcell, MSW, LCSW, CEAP
Do you wrestle with unrealized dreams, relationship issues, or lack of clarity in any area of your life? If so, you aren’t alone. Struggle and confusion are part of the human condition. One of the best kept secrets, however, is that the answers you seek may lie within you – right here, right now.
I’m delighted to share with you an ancient practice that can bring renewed clarity, purpose, and joy to your life, despite the challenges you may be facing as a cancer survivor. All you need is a pen, a notebook, and the willingness to write without censor.
The recognized tradition of journaling dates to at least 10th century Japan. But ancestral writings found on the walls of caves might also be considered a kind of journaling, chronicling, or storytelling. Leonardo da Vinci journaled copiously to record his treasure trove of ideas, while U.S. presidents have kept journals for posterity.
All you need is a pen, a notebook, and the willingness to write without censor.
The Health Benefits of Journaling
Let’s take a closer look at some of the many emotional and psychological benefits of journaling. It is well established that journaling can:
- Help clarify worries and put them into perspective
- Aid in healing from traumatic events
- Help us problem solve
- Increase gratitude
- Remind us that we’ve gotten through difficulties before, thereby engendering hope and optimism
- Trigger creativity
- Help us find meaning in life’s circumstances
- Bring issues hovering just below the surface of consciousness into full awareness
- Illuminate our feelings
- Assist us in preparing for challenging conversations
- Help us determine a new life path or direction
- Provide a chance to come to terms with our mistakes and find self-forgiveness
- Help us turn ideas into action plans
- Develop or strengthen our connection with a higher power
Research into journaling, especially that conducted by Dr. James Pennebacker of The University of Texas at Austin, shows that regular journaling may also accomplish the following:
- Decrease blood pressure and heart rate
- Increase immune system functioning
- Help with pain-related disorders
- Aid digestion
- Improve sleep
Need a prompt? Try one of these.
- What new adventure would you like to experience in the future?
- What can you do to improve your relationship with a partner, friend, or family member?
- What would you like the next chapter of your life to look like?
How to Get Started
The prospect of starting a journal may seem daunting. But there are some simple steps you can take to make it a healing, rewarding, and enjoyable experience.
Start by finding a notebook and a writing implement that speak to you. It’s worth taking the time to find just the right “tools” to begin your journaling journey.
You’ll be surprised at what just five minutes of journaling a day can do for your psyche.
Next, locate a cozy spot that feels comfortable and safe for journaling. You’ll need a writing surface and a comfy seat. A great view is a bonus but not an essential. Surround yourself with meaningful, beautiful, or thought-provoking objects, such as photos that evoke happy memories, treasures from walks on the beach or trips near and far, and reminders of adventures you’re planning. Having in view a variety of seemingly unrelated objects can help spark your creativity.
Now, engage your senses. Enhance your journaling nook with things like fresh flowers, scented candles, wonderful music, or a glass of your favorite beverage. Any or all of these can make it easier and more pleasurable to put pen to paper.
The wonderful thing about journaling is that there are no rules. You can write whatever you want without the constraints of proper grammar or punctuation. It’s best to let the pen and paper – rather than your rational brain – do the writing.
Start small. You’ll be surprised at what just five minutes of journaling a day can do for your psyche. But, if you feel stuck, you can always use a writing prompt to help get you started.
Your journal can become your best friend: a confidant who never reveals your secrets, offers unsolicited advice, or judges you, one who is willing to listen endlessly. When navigating life’s stormy waters, or simply feeling gratitude for the gifts that surround you, what better companion to have?
Maud Purcell is a psychotherapist, corporate consultant, and founder of The Life Solution Center of Darien in Darien, CT. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2018.