Alternative therapies are becoming an increasingly common way to manage chronic illnesses, stress and depression. No longer considered to be experimental, these therapies have gained widespread acceptance. Art therapy, music therapy and pet therapy are a standard part of life in most senior living communities including the memory care programs like Chronicles.
Another form of therapy that is gaining in popularity because of its effectiveness is journaling. The therapeutic power of getting your thoughts down on paper is linked to everything from lower rates of depression to better stress management. Caregivers of a senior loved one or a person living with a chronic illness, may find writing to be of help in expressing the fears, guilt, sadness and stress.
The Background on Journaling
The Journal of the American Medical Association published an interesting study that highlights the importance of writing about what is really getting you down. It found that 47% of patients with a chronic health condition like asthma and rheumatoid arthritis saw improvements in their physical and emotional well-being after writing about the most traumatic event in their lives.
By contrast those who journal only about everyday activities and event had only a 24% improvement. The message of the study was that while writing about what really hurts can be difficult, it can also have a positive effect on both the physical and emotional health of caregivers and those who are ill.
Starting a Caregiver Journal
Author Dr. James Pennebaker suggests a simple five-step process for beginning journalers in his book, Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval.
His advice is to:
1. Write for 20 minutes per day for four days.
2. Write about a major conflict or stressor in your life.
3. Write without stopping; don’t worry about spelling and grammar.
4. Write this for your eyes only.
5. If writing about something makes you unbearably upset, stop.
After you’ve made it through this 5-step process, you can move on to develop your own style of journaling. Most experts suggest keeping a stream of consciousness journal. Use a plain spiral notebook to write whatever comes to mind. Don’t filter your thoughts or worry about polishing your grammar.
When you first start writing each day, you will likely find the first few minutes of your time will be spent documenting the highlights and activities of the day. Once you relax, your subconscious will take over and you will find yourself writing about your real struggles, fears and emotions from the day.
We hope this information helps you find a healthy outlet for coping with the challenges of caring for a loved one.
Find more advice and resources for caregivers on our blog.