The Healing Power of Keeping a Journal
Keeping a daily journal while making your way through grief is one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself.
It does not have to be fancy or read by anyone else. You can use a simple spiral notebook that is available at any office supply or create a file on your computer or iPad.
My preference is a notebook because you make the entries in your own handwriting.
Keeping a journal does two important things. The most obvious is it creates a written record of your progress. People who have kept journals through the first year or two following a major loss report that reading their early entries made them aware that they were not hopelessly “stuck” as they had thought.
Grief doesn’t follow a neat, predictable path. Early in the process it is normal to think, “This the way I am going to feel for the rest of my life.” Journaling reveals that, while it is a normal reaction, it simply is not true.
If possible, it is a good idea to make journal entries every day at about the same time of day. You are more likely to journal regularly if you have a designated time than if you don’t. I frequently hear that a certain time of day is the most difficult emotionally. It can be mornings, meal times or evenings. Some people have found that getting up and writing in their journals during a sleep-disturbed night helps them return to bed and sleep. Others say it works best for them to get a cup of coffee or tea at some point during the day, put on some music and curl up in a chair with their journals.
The other important thing keeping a journal does is less obvious, but, if anything, more important.
There is evidence that keeping a journal strengthens our immune systems. Several years ago, Southern Methodist University did a study of college students. At the beginning of the school year, they divided them into two groups. The only difference was that one group would keep a journal and the other would not. They did extensive physical and mental testing of the students at the beginning and again at the end of the school year. The group that did not journal showed the usual effects of college life: fatigue, stress and a weakened immune system. The group that kept a journal was actually stronger at year’s end than at the beginning.
What you write in your journal is up to you. Keeping track of people’s kind acts, noting those who were helpful to you and those who tried but weren’t helpful, noting your feelings at the time you were writing and listing things you did that day or the day before are all useful entries.
The best advice I can offer you is: Try it, you will like it.
Bob Deits, M.Th.