This is the inaugural edition of Stacy Fisher's Health Matters column.
Please comment below with your ideas for future columns.
When my marriage unraveled a few years ago, I spent a lot of time in my journal. The blank pages offered me a sense of comfort, a safe place to sort out my feelings—without the need to justify or defend them.
Having a healthy way to release those intense emotions felt like such a gift. It helped me move through the grieving process with grace and ease. And it eventually helped me shift my perspectives away from the past and toward the future.
Looking back on those journal entries now, it’s clear that getting my thoughts out onto paper is what helped me identify not only my struggles, but also my opportunities. Within my journal I explored new possibilities. I went on adventures in my mind, trying on new ways to living and moving forward.
There’s no doubt that on those pages I began to redesign my life.
With the global unraveling we’ve experienced in recent weeks, many of us are facing similar circumstances today. We’re grieving the loss of the familiar and rethinking what we want our lives to look like once we move through these challenging times.
Journaling is a powerful self-care tool that can help us find meaning in the midst of hardship.
What is Self-Care?
Self-care has been described as a preventive health strategy involving the actions and behaviors that improve, restore, or maintain good health. In short, it includes anything you do to support your health in a positive way—and it most certainly includes journaling.
Self-care is an art as much as it is a process, and for that reason it’s highly personal. What might be an effective self-care tool for you may not be as effective for someone else. Developing a self-care practice requires a deep understanding of your unique needs and preferences, and it requires a willingness to experiment with a number of different strategies to discover which ones are right for you.
Some health experts estimate that 80% of all health-related care is self-care. That’s because it includes everything you do between doctor’s appointments to support your well-being.
Journaling is a simple self-care strategy that has been associated with many health benefits, like reduced symptoms of depression, enhanced immune function, and better problem-solving.
And it can be especially helpful in life’s most trying times.
Life’s Heavy Moments
During life’s heavier moments—like the ones we’re facing now—it’s easy to feel drawn to self-soothing options, like having an extra glass of wine or skipping a yoga practice to binge watch our favorite TV shows or podcasts instead.
The problem is that ignoring uncomfortable feelings and suppressing our anxiety doesn’t help us in the long run. Prolonged stress can interfere with our sleep cycles, eating habits, relationships, and virtually every area of our life.
But writing about our experiences offers us a way to experience them in a healthy way. It allows us to let go of the emotions that no longer serve us, and it helps us see our patterns more clearly. That gives us an opportunity to course correct before negative health consequences arise.
In my case, journaling helped call my attention to the areas of my life that I’d been neglecting, like exercising, getting high-quality sleep, and choosing healthy foods. Even as a registered dietitian with more than two decades of experience, my negative emotions had interfered with how I nourished and cared for my body. Journaling helped me change that.
When it comes to identifying and prioritizing what you need at any given moment to support your well-being, journaling is an effective tool.
Here are a few additional journaling techniques to help you expand your self-care practice:
Create an Emergency Self-Care Plan
One way to prepare yourself for those unexpected curveballs is to create an emergency self-care plan—a list of strategies you can turn to when life doesn’t go the way you thought it would. Life’s heavy moments can catch us off guard, and having a plan ahead of time can make you more resilient. Spend some time journaling about the self-care strategies you’d include in your plan.
Here are some of the self-care strategies on my emergency self-care plan:
- Enjoying a cup of yummy tea
- Crying in my fuzzy robe
- Taking a warm shower
Create Daily Rituals
Daily self-care rituals help you create a sense of flow, helping you stay grounded and focused on your priorities. My morning practice sets the tone for my entire day, and it includes meditation, reading, journaling, and planning. I prefer freestyle journaling over some of the more structured forms, simply allowing my thoughts to flow freely onto the pages. I give myself the freedom to jump from topic to topic, use run on sentences, make spelling errors, ignore proper grammar, and write illegibly. There are no rules when it comes to transcribing my thoughts into words. Some days I use the space to release negative thought patterns; other times I lay out possible solutions to a problem I’m trying to work through. Give yourself permission to explore different forms of journaling until you find what works for you. Daily rituals can help strengthen your self-care practice.
Expressing gratitude has been associated with greater happiness and reduced stress. Taking inventory of the good things in your life can help you unwind from the busyness of the day and ease into a state of relaxation that promotes restful sleep. That’s why evenings are a great time for gratitude journaling. To get started, simply make a list of what you’re grateful for, from the special people in your life to the things that bring you joy. Recall your day and make notes about what went well. The expression gratitude is a simple act of self-care.
Walk in Nature
The research is clear that spending time in nature offers benefits to our health. Sometimes referred to as ‘forest bathing,’ it’s been associated with reduced blood pressure, lower levels of cortisol, and reduced anxiety. And while you may not consider hiking an opportunity to expand your journaling practice, you might be surprised. Try experimenting with voice-to-text journaling as you walk, or take a break and sketch out your thoughts into a mind map. Nature can be quite inspiring, and there are endless ways to journal.
Celebrate Your Wins
It’s easy to gloss over your successes and move straight to the next goal on your list. But taking inventory of your wins has some health benefits as well. Taking time to acknowledge your achievements can give you a boost of encouragement and motivation. Even if your list of wins isn’t long, maintaining a focus on your gains—rather than your losses—can help shift your mindset to one that’s more positive.
Experimenting with different types of self-care journaling will help you determine which style best serves you. Explore freestyle journaling, doodling, mind mapping, and using journal prompts. And don’t be afraid to make changes now and then to keep things interesting. When your journaling practice something you look forward to each day, you’ll be more consistent and gain more benefits. There’s no doubt about it: Journaling is a therapeutic form of self-care that can move your toward better health.
Author bio: STACY FISHER, RDN, LD, CDCES is the founder of LivingUpp™, a lifestyle design company that teaches women how to use a self-care planning system to create more ease and better health. She is a registered dietitian and lifestyle coach with 20+ years of experience in the healthcare industry, where she’s worked with large companies such as Dell, Boeing and Nike. Stacy is the author of The Lifestyle Design Planner, a flexible life organizer for high-achievers who value self-care and simplicity.
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