Friday, April 7, 2017

The Successful Patient: Writing to Heal

In the May 2017 issue of The Writer, Gail Radley writes about the health benefits of writing a journal. As I read this article, I thought of my own journal, neglected for the past 2 years due to a life far busier than I really wanted. Before financial distress and finding first a part-time job then a fulltime job, I used to write in my journal daily after lunch for about an hour. If I missed a day, I felt uncomfortable, like I'd forgotten something and could not remember what. During the last 2 years, the guilt about not writing has gnawed at me, but the time just never opened up enough to push it into my day again. That may change as my life settles down a bit and I'm not scrambling in 10 different directions to pull in revenue to pay bills.

Radley examines the healing power of writing a journal on a person's mental state. I could definitely use some help in that area! While no substitute for a human therapist to talk to, who will listen compassionately and be the guide to self-discovery and self-knowledge, journal writing can act as a safety valve for letting off steam on bad days and celebrating on good days.  It's a great way to work through problems, weigh decisions, and try to make sense of the world around us.

I've kept a journal since I was 11 years old, and over the years I've learned that how honest I am with myself as I'm writing in the journal determines if I gain psychological and emotional insights about myself from writing. It's so easy to get caught up in the everyday details of life, record what I've done, seen, heard, instead of what I thought of it all. Including what I've thought of myself. For me, my journal is the place to ask questions that are bothering me, set personal goals, and record important moments in my life. It has helped to keep me sane and focused during challenging times. It has been a valuable friend while I've gone through therapy for depression, PTSD, anxiety, and other issues related to childhood trauma. So, I agree with Radley that writing in a journal can be healing for the mind and soul but only if the writer is honest with herself.

Can writing in a journal help physical health? The mind has a powerful connection with the body, and we know that emotions can cause physical responses. If writing can calm the mind, can exorcise anxiety and ameliorate depression, then the body will not suffer the physical effects of these things. I know that for me, I feel better physically when I'm writing in my journal on a regular basis. And I support that writing with other things that enhance the effect such as meditation, qigong exercise, and walking.

It's important to remember the mind-body connection, and to pay attention to physical clues that the mind is distressed. It's especially important not to stuff feelings and writing them out in a journal can really help.  Expressing anger at a co-worker in person may not be the positive, constructive experience that you might want. Walking away, cooling down by writing down your thoughts and feelings can help gain distance from the situation and bring it into clearer perspective. What was your role in the situation? What was the co-worker's role? I remember saying to an acquaintance once who had angered me that my response had not come out of the blue as she was claiming. There had been a cause, and it had been something that she'd done. Sometimes it can be difficult to see a true cause in the midst of a strong emotional response. And sometimes the true cause of a person's anger is something that person has done, or is guilty about, or regrets, or any number of things, instead of what the co-worker said or did. Writing can help ferret out these hidden causes.

How to write a journal? It's actually very easy.  For example, I buy regular 3-subject spiral notebooks and write in them by hand using different colored pens. Some people use blank books. Others use the computer. There are bloggers who are actually keeping a journal through their blog about a specific activity or time in their lives. It doesn't have to be fancy, but it does need to be a form with which you are comfortable. If you feel in need of help to get started, there are books out there that can get you going. I just searched on "journal writing" at Amazon, and 50+ pages of titles came up. In the past, I've used At a Journal Workshop by Ira Progoff and The New Diary by Tristine Rainer to help me. 

Time for me to get back into journal writing myself.....

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