Can Journaling after Cancer Diagnosis be beneficial?

I tried to keep a diary many times in my life, growing up and later as an adult. I would get a new notebook, write for a few days, and then forget about it. The longest time I kept a diary was actually when I was going through cancer treatment. After my daily meditation, I would note down how I felt and any thought I had on my mind at that time. It was a moment in my day when I could connect to my emotions, and honestly interrogate myself on my feelings. It was also a place where I would capture what I wanted to do after treatment, the changes I wanted to bring to my life and the projects that were motivating me.  

When asked by my family and close friends how I was doing, I would put on a brave face and reassure them I was ok. They were back in Europe and the distance made it more difficult to share what I was feeling. My journaling time was the moment of my day when I could be true to myself.

Just as it was for me, journaling can be a valuable tool for cancer patients and survivors, as it helps to face, accept, and process the strong negative emotions that often accompany a cancer diagnosis. By externalizing emotions and gaining clarity about feelings, journaling allows us to understand our emotions and develop self-awareness while limiting the risk of feeling overwhelmed.

Additionally, it provides a way to release emotions that may be difficult to share with loved ones and allows for reflection on our personal growth throughout the cancer journey. Journaling helps find the silver linings or the positive things that happen amidst the sorrows of cancer.

The number of studies assessing the impact of journaling on cancer patients and survivors is limited but so far, research demonstrates that journaling can aid in balancing emotions, decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as benefiting physical well-being. Studies have shown that journaling can help with sleep quality, immune functioning, pain levels, and blood pressure.

It is important to note that journaling may also have drawbacks for individuals who find themselves reliving memories and ruminating on past issues and resentments. In such cases, it is best to pause journaling for a while and seek guidance from a mental health specialist to determine a more suitable approach for that specific situation.

The goal of journaling is to transcend our experiences, to discover our own words and images that help structure our thoughts and emotions, ultimately giving meaning to our personal stories.

Tips on starting a Journal about your cancer journey

  • Choose your favorite format: You may want to get a paper journal or use an app. If you are concerned somebody may read your journal, an electronic journal protected by password should help. Date your entries as it will be helpful if you want to reflect on your journey later on.
  • Keep it simple: you don’t have to write full sentences if you don’t feel like it; a few words can be enough. This journal is for your eyes only so no need to worry about spelling or grammar. Write about what matters the most to you. If you feel stuck, you may want to write down a few things you are grateful for.
  • Set a routine: Find a place where you are comfortable to write and will not be interrupted. Journaling doesn’t have to take much time. For example, a few minutes in the evening as you are getting ready for bed as getting things out of your mind in the evening may actually have a better night of sleep. Other people prefer to write in the morning as a way to set their intention for the day.
  • Be true to yourself:  A common challenge is the urge to censor oneself. However, it is important to be honest with yourself and to include both negative and positive thoughts. Getting negative thoughts out can bring relief from the stress of cancer and help you gain more awareness of your needs.

In this article, I am talking about keeping a journal for yourself only. Some people like to document their cancer journey on a blog, by email or using social media to provide updates to loved ones. Some people also like to write a journal to leave a legacy to their loved ones. These are also great options that you may also want to consider.

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