Jorden Williams, Content Designer at BANES Carers Centre, has pulled together this blog on how journaling can support our emotional wellbeing. It's a tool some carers in our Mobilise team use and love. Have you given it a try?
Off-load your emotions, organise your thoughts or gain a new perspective
Although caring is rewarding in many ways, it can take a toll on our stress levels and significantly impact our health and wellbeing.
Self-care isn’t ‘one size fits all’. What works for one person may not work for another. Many of us need to try a few different methods, before we find what feels right. In this article we’re going to explore the benefits of journaling and how it could support you in your caring role.
Journaling has risen in popularity over the last few years, and many in the caring community are finding it helpful as a way to focus their thoughts, declutter their minds and provide a channel for feelings of anger, stress, or resentment.
Some assume journaling is what you do as a youngster, writing about teenage angst in a diary, or some think it's best left in a counselling session. I’m here to tell you that journaling is not limited to these spaces. This therapeutic tool is now in the hands of the masses, allowing us to explore our feelings in our own time – and best of all, it’s free!
“I've never classed myself as a 'creative’ person but there is something very therapeutic and freeing about writing down what's in your head on paper and letting it go by tearing it up physically.” - Sarah
The act of journaling can help us get our thoughts, feelings, and worries out of our head, turning them into something tangible that we can observe or analyse from a different perspective.
It can help us understand our pain points a little more, ultimately making them more manageable. Joe, who cares for his mother, shared that journaling has helped him understand things from his mother’s point of view. He appreciates the insight it offers him to how she might be feeling in a situation.
“When I’ve felt frustrated in my caring role, it’s helped me get a balanced view of things.” - Joe
Let’s take a look at some journaling styles:
1. Free writing
With this great technique, we put pen to paper and write down all our thoughts without stopping. Let our stream of consciousness flow and jot down any reflections that crop up, quickly and without censorship.
It can be difficult to get going at first and it can be hard to face our raw emotions. To get in full swing and release any tension, it’s useful to set ourselves an allotted amount of time or a specific number of pages to write, and make it part of our routine a few times a week.
We suggest keeping it short, between 5 and 10 minutes of writing or about two A4 sheets of paper. Don’t stop until our time is up or the pages are full, and if we don’t know what to write – start with ‘I don’t know what to write’!
Even if it looks like complete gibberish, keep going and let it happen. This process can help us learn to accept our feelings without judgement as well as clear our mind, and often we will find solutions to problems along the way.
“Whilst it’s stuck in your head, it just keeps you in a state of anxiety. The more you let it stick with you, the more control it has over you. Getting it down on paper helps you release it. Journaling is your space, a tool to help you.” - Joe
2. Unsent letter
Relationships with the ones we love are not linear, they are complex especially with the addition of a caring role. This is a powerful exercise that helps us voice our thoughts without holding back.
We simply write a letter to someone, who will never see it. We can write this letter to anyone, it could be someone we’re close to, a person we may not be able to directly speak to or even our future self.
This cathartic process can help us express what’s truly going on for us right now and gain clarity and closure. When we’ve finished writing, we simply decide what to do with the letter. Burn it, shred it or keep it, the choice is ours.
3. Gratitude list
Let’s start the day right. Before our morning routine begins, we can take some time to list a few things that we are thankful for. Big or small, it doesn’t matter, just write about what is important to us.
Cultivating feelings of gratitude can have incredible benefits, including supporting both our physical and psychological health*.
If you’re struggling, try the following prompts to help you begin:
Take a walk or look outside – are you grateful for something in nature?
Look at an old photograph – is there a memory you cherish?
Think of a loved one – did they do or say something that made you feel supported?
Look around you right now - what is there to be grateful for? perhaps clean sheets on your bed or a hot shower.
4. Visual journals
Journaling doesn’t always have to take place in a notebook, it doesn’t even have to be written text. We can take photographs, make collages or create videos to express how we feel.
Joe enjoys making videos, and he’s found that recording himself having a conversation allows him the space to vent and express himself in a judgement-free zone. Many of us own smartphones these days, so the technology to create short videos is at our fingertips.
A great tool to help us build a habit of shooting daily videos is the 1 Second Everyday app. It’s easy to use and allows us to edit footage and stitch short snippets together. It reminds us to keep going, to capture life’s ups and downs.
“Having that conversation with yourself helps you get a natural flow. Next thing you know you’ve been talking for 10 minutes!” – Joe
5. Worry journal
If we’re juggling a lot, it’s hard to keep track of everything and our worries can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. We can declutter our minds before we go to bed by placing our worries elsewhere.
We can do this by noting our concerns using a journaling technique of our choice like free writing or bulleted lists. Then go through each of our concerns and ask ourselves ‘can this be easily solved?’
If the answer is yes, explore it further and set intentions or actions to achieve a resolution the next day.
If the answer is no, try to break down the problem and find the root cause. This may help you reframe it and work towards our next steps.
We may come back to the problem at a later date when we’re able to resolve it. By getting our worries on paper, we can create some distance from our racing thoughts and find a sense of calm.
6. Addressing a letter to someone else
Carers in the Mobilise community have also shared that writing things down on paper allows them to express how they really feel on paper, on both the good days and bad days.
If our relationship with the person we care for tends to go up and down, it may not always be possible to convey how we really feel during the moment.
The purpose of this addressed letter is so that the person we look after can hopefully discover and read it at later date.
"I wrote him a letter and put it with all my paperwork etc. In it, I have written all the things that are on my heart and things that I find difficult to say face to face. Doing this has given me a peace of mind and has shown me just how much I love him, even when things get really bad. It was very cathartic and I feel it will be very helpful for him when he's grieving for me."
Remember there are lots of ways to journal, whether that’s using a notebook, a computer, or even our phone. We can express ourselves by writing a little, a lot or not at all. Give it a go and see what works for you.
And if you’re using a different method to support you in your caring role, please do share it with others in the Mobilise community. We'd love to hear from you.
*Psychology Today. N.D
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