Crohn’s Life Hack: Journaling to Relieve Stress
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Everyone experiences stress at some point. Although stress by itself doesn’t cause Crohn’s disease, it can make your symptoms worse. You may worry about what foods will cause a flare-up or feel anxious about having gas or diarrhea in a social situation. The good news is that journaling, or expressive writing, can help you cope.
James Pennebaker, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of the bookExpressive Writing: Words That Heal, conducted some of the first studies to show the benefits of expressive writing. In one, college students were asked to write about a difficult or emotionally disturbing event while a control group of others wrote about what they had done over the previous two weeks. Dr. Pennebaker found that students in the expressive writing group had significantly lower depression symptoms compared with students in the control group.
Other studies conducted by Pennebaker have shown that expressive writing is associated with improved immune function and fewer health center visits.
“There is now strong scientific evidence to suggest that writing about emotional upheavals or conflicts in your life can improve your health and your outlook,” Pennebaker says. “Even writing for a few minutes a day for three to four days can be helpful.”
Ways Journaling Can Help
Here are three ways that journaling may help you deal with stress.
1. Expressing Thoughts and Emotions
The emotional factors of Crohn’s can be overwhelming. For many people, journaling helps relieve tension and makes daily challenges seem more manageable. “When you get your thoughts out, you feel better,” says Angelita Jacobs, a limited license psychologist and life coach in Michigan. She recommends journaling as a way to address the “three R's:” relax, relate, and release. First, journaling helps yourelaxbecause you can clear your mind. Second, it helps yourelateto your emotions and identify the parts of your life that are causing joy or pain. Third, it helps youreleasestressful and toxic thoughts.
2. Problem Solving
Journaling helps you “see” what’s going on with your situation and how to manage expectations. It also helps you organize and contextualize your thoughts. As a result, you’re better equipped to find solutions to your problems. With a calm mind, you’ll make better decisions and be able to understand your reasons behind those decisions.
3. Staying Positive
When things go wrong and stress sets in, it’s easy to forget about the good parts of life. Journaling can remind you that you’re more than Crohn’s disease. It also reminds you of how strong you are and what you’ve overcome. It’s easy to forget personal and public victories when you don’t write them down. Reviewing your wins can serve as motivation in challenging times.
Starting a Journal Practice
There is no right or wrong way to journal. Some people prefer beautifully decorated bound journals with blank pages, while other people use a regular notepad with lined paper. For people who prefer computers, word processing programs like Microsoft Word or online journaling platforms like Penzu are also good options. Other methods for journaling include digital voice recorders and voice-to-text features on cell phones.
To get started, pick a quiet place where you won't be disturbed and try writing every day at a set time. Commit to journaling for at least 15 minutes or 100 words a day. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or finding the “right words” to describe what you’re feeling.
It’s your experience. No one will read or judge your thoughts, so give yourself permission to be totally honest. You don’t have to be perfect. Just be yourself.
“Journaling helps you think more deeply about your life, including how an illness like Crohn’s disease affects your mood,” says Jacobs.
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