3 benefits of journaling for cancer patients and caregivers

Facing a cancer diagnosis or caring for someone during cancer treatment can be extremely stressful. And, when you’re dealing with stress, your emotions, memory and relationships can all be affected.

But journaling can help, says social work counselor Tiffany Meyer.

“Journaling is an intentional act of honest reflection about yourself and the things going on in your life,” says Meyer. “It can help cancer patients and caregivers navigate one of the most mentally challenging times in their lives.”

Here’s how journaling can make a difference — and Meyer’s advice on how to get started.

Journaling can improve your memory

Cancer and its treatment can sometimes cause problems with short-term memory, also known as chemobrain. A daily journal practice can help you keep track of appointments, conversations or important events that you may have trouble remembering on your own.

Journaling can help you process emotions

“Writing down your thoughts can help you remember things as well as cope with the range of emotions that comes with a cancer diagnosis,” Meyer says.

One way to do that is to write down how you’re feeling — whether it’s happy, sad, anxious or hopeful. “There are lots of things in life we don’t have control over,” Meyer says. “Journaling is one way to take control during chaos.”

Reflecting on your emotions and writing them down may help you understand what you’re feeling.  Meyer suggests writing down three things you’re feeling in a particular moment, including any other reflections you’d like to add.

Keeping a gratitude journal is another way to get in tune with your emotions. “Write down things you’re grateful for, no matter how big or small,” Meyer says. You can look back on your gratitude journal any time you need a little inspiration.

Journaling can strengthen relationships

Journaling can help improve your relationships. Once you’ve written down your thoughts, you can review those experiences and recognize patterns in your behavior and how you talk to others.

“You can look back and gain more perspective on certain situations, so you can handle similar situations differently in the future,” Meyer says.

If you’re having a hard time dealing with someone in your life, journaling can be a way to open yourself up to forgiveness. “Try writing down nice things about them. Or even write what you want to say to them in person,” Meyer says.  

How to get started with journaling

Journaling doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but that shouldn’t keep you from giving it a try. The good news, Meyer says, is that it doesn’t require any special skills. “The challenge is overcoming your own doubt and the urge to censor yourself,” she adds.

Here’s her advice for overcoming obstacles that may keep you from getting started:

  • Worried about lack of time? Journaling doesn’t have to take much time. “Think about how much time you spend on other tasks, like social media, every day,” Meyer says. “If you can spend five or 10 minutes a day journaling instead of scrolling, that’s a good start.”
  • Afraid you’ll be too negative? Meyer recommends writing down your true thoughts and feelings – even if they’re not nice. “Getting negative thoughts out can be very healing,” Meyers says. Being honest with yourself and your feelings is a way to gain more self-awareness of how you process emotion.
  • Think someone will read your journal? A common reason for not wanting to journal is fear someone will read what you’ve written without your permission. Meyer says the solution is easy: “You don’t have to keep what you write.” After you’ve gotten your feelings out, you can throw away a journal entry. “If that’s not enough, you can shred it, delete it or even burn it,” Meyer says. The benefits come from writing down your thoughts and reflecting on them, not necessarily keeping them.

Stay consistent

Many people may prefer a paper journal; others may choose an app format.

Whatever approach you choose, Meyer’s advice is to pick one that feels comfortable to you so that you’ll stick with it.

Meyer also recommends setting aside a few minutes at the same time each day to journal. “You can set a timer for 10 minutes and just write down whatever comes out,” Meyer says.

Let your journal be a visual reminder to remind you to write routinely. “It helps to keep your journal somewhere you’ll see it, like your desk or nightstand,” she adds.

If you’re struggling to journal every day, you can ask for encouragement from a friend or loved one. Find someone you know who also journals, so they can help with accountability.

“The most important thing is to get started,” says Meyer.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.