Papercut and colored pencil art by Sheryl Aronson X 5

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Journaling Can Ease Your Pain

I wrote awhile back about using art journals to cope, but I never wrote about journaling in general.  I had been thinking that this would be a good topic when I got an email from the How to Cope With Pain Blog.  It was a request from one of his readers.  Here is an excerpt from that blog:
I’m a chronic pain patient myself who is learning to overcome my pain by writing.  I’ve learned that by rediscovering this passion, I’ve been able to lower my pain level.  Consequently, I’m putting together an inspirational e-book filled with stories BY chronic pain patients FOR chronic pain patients.  If you want to contribute to his book, email him ASAP at drew_bufalini@yahoo.com.  He wants the submissions by Dec. 1, 2010.  
I'd call that a testimonial of writing helping someone get control over his pain.  Journaling has so many benefits.  For many people, journaling is a way to put down their thoughts and feelings so they don’t have to carry them around all the time. It can help organize thoughts, discover trends in thinking or behavior, and record progress or changes. You can record the highlights of your day, or you can write down your thoughts, feelings, fears or dreams.  The only rule of journaling is that the journal owner makes the rules, and can break or change them at any time. In order to develop a habit of journaling, it is important to do it regularly.
There are countless types of journals.  Journals can be like diaries, recording activities, thoughts and feelings.  They can be like scrapbooks, with words, pictures and mementos.  They can be a place to keep track of specific information, random thoughts, or anything you want to put in them. They can be written, drawn, painted, collaged, and every other means of expression that comes to mind. Traditionally, journals were on paper, a looseleaf notebook, spiral bound, hard cover or paperback, and any size you like. 
In a healing journal, writing about your illness, your problems, your fears can get them out of your mind.  Just the act of writing it down can be healing, as though someone has listened with a sympathetic ear. You can explore options of treatment, and how you feel about them. Write down your questions, then look for the answers. Give yourself encouragement by reminding yourself that you have made it this far. You are more than just your pain and illness.

If you have a chronic or long term illness, it can be helpful to keep a symptoms journal, to keep track of how you feel.  One benefit of this is to share the information with your doctor.  Over time, you may notice that whenever you eat a certain food, take a certain medication, or participate in a certain activity, your symptoms flare up. You can then eliminate that food from your diet, talk to your doctor about changing the medication, or stop or alter the activity.  Symptoms journals can be structured in a variety of ways.  The simplest would be to just list your symptoms each day.  This may not give a good picture of what is going on. More information would help.  You can set up a grid with your common symptoms, dividing each into mild, moderate and severe, and a column for “other” across one axis, and dates, which can be subdivided into morning, afternoon and evening along the other axis.  In the “other” column, you can write in any other symptoms, comments, or other info that may be relevant, such as only getting 3 hours of sleep the night before. Another helpful way of keeping track of symptoms is to draw them.  Draw a basic outline of a body and make copies of it.   Using colored pencils, markers or crayons, add colors, shapes and lines to the image, to show how you feel.   
There are many other types of journals.  One of my favorites is a gratitude journal, which focuses on things for which you are grateful.  This can help you to refocus your thinking if you tend to dwell on your pain and suffering.  A gratitude journal is an ongoing list of good things in life, big and small.  It can include smelling a flower, talking to an old friend, five minutes of quiet after the kids went to bed, even the basics, like food, shelter, love.  Try to write down at least 3-5 things you are grateful for each day.  Since starting my gratitude journal, I am more aware of the blessings in my life, and focus less on the pain.  When feeling down, just looking at the list brings me back up.          

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