By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA
Whether you love to write or are as intimidated by the process as I used to be, journaling offers something of value for every nurse. And just as there are many ways to journal, there also are many misconceptions about the process.
Journaling is a powerful tool. It can lead to self-awareness, self-discovery, stress relief, increased happiness and even improved health. Regular journaling has been shown to ease chronic illness, boost the immune system and even improve sleep when done before bedtime. It can lead the way to making tough decisions; uncover aspirations, goals, and obstacles that have been hidden from view; and help to unravel solutions to vexing problems.
I once thought that journaling meant keeping a “diary,” recording what I did each day. Not only did I doubt I could commit to writing something every day, but I envisioned that entries would usually be rather boring, such as: “Didn’t do anything too interesting today.” It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to take a journaling workshop that I began to better understand what it was all about and the myriad ways it could benefit me.
Journaling differs from “diary keeping” in that it is an ongoing process of recording one’s thoughts, feelings, and responses to life’s events and experiences. And while a journal may include the recording of events such as with a diary, it would also include thoughts, feelings and reactions to those events.
You don’t have to be a good writer to journal nor do you need to be creative or have good spelling or grammar skills. It is the act of writing itself that is healing and revealing, not necessarily the actual words used.
Key to effective journaling is to write with abandon. This means you should not go back over your work to proofread it or correct it. Let the words flow freely. Let go of criticism, judgment and analysis of your writing. In other words, just write. What’s important is the process, not the outcome.
Stay focused on yourself in your writing. You may write about events that happened, but record your thoughts and reactions to them. Consider writing about challenges you’re encountering in your life and work, things you are grateful for, or things you’d still like to accomplish. You might, on occasion, write in the third person to yourself with advice about something that’s been perplexing you, record a vivid dream, confront a fear, transcribe an encounter you had with someone that was either troublesome or enjoyable, and reflect on why you got into nursing.
Try writing a “letter” in your journal to someone from your past – alive or deceased, or someone you haven’t yet met (a child you long to give birth to, a relationship you someday hope to have), or even to a higher power. If you don’t know what to write, write exactly that on the paper, e.g., “I don’t know what to write today.” Then keep the pen moving in a free-association style. You’ll be amazed where the process can take you. There are many different ways to express yourself.
Some experts say it is ideal to spend about 15-20 minutes at a time writing on a somewhat regular basis (once a week or a few times a month will do). But there are really no rules where journaling is concerned. There have been times that I write on consecutive days and other times that a month or more passes without a notation. That being said, the more often you turn to your journal, the more comfortable you will get with the process and the more beneficial it will be for you.
It is not necessary to keep what you write. In some cases, shredding your work or burning it in the fireplace can be very therapeutic, especially if it’s something you want to release or put behind you. Otherwise, create a safe place for your work – a locked box or private space. Protect your work so that you can be completely honest with yourself. Get yourself a spiral notebook, leather-bound journal or start a password-protected folder on your computer. Experiment with writing by hand versus writing on the computer to see and feel which works best for you. If you are accustomed to doing all or most of your writing on the computer, you might try writing by hand for a different approach. Some people even doodle and draw in their journal along with written entries.
Whether you journal online or on paper, make your writing public or keep it private, archive your work or dispose of it after you’ve written it, journaling has the power to transform. Use it for self-discovery, stress relief, creative expression, and as a manifestation of your ‘internal’ life – your thoughts, feelings, dreams, and more. Before long, you’ll be journaling your way to success.
Copyright Gannett Healthcare Group (www.nurse.com). All rights reserved. Used with permission.