Imagine. A holiday season (or any time of year) where life goes smoothly, seems effortless, and joy abounds. The caregivers among you are probably shaking your heads, knowing reality is more like chaos at the end of a long struggle. The fact is, caregiver stress and holiday pressures add up to a double whammy this time of year.
In normal circumstances, about 55% of caregivers feel overwhelmed in their caregiving role (from a 2011 study by the American Psychological Association). The study also showed caregivers suffer more extremely than the general population:
- Caregivers were more likely to feel stressed (49% vs. 39%)
- Were more likely to have chronic illness (82% vs. 61%)
- Were more likely to experience physical symptoms of stress (anxiety, fatigue, lack of interest, head or stomach ache, etc.) (94% vs. 76%)
Added holiday pressures heighten a caregiver’s need for a safe, acceptable, inexpensive way to process stress and feelings, for the good of themselves and their loved ones.
Open this holiday gift now: start journaling to reduce stress.
Yes, this does sound like just one more thing to add to your already bursting day and overloaded mind. It would be true, if this didn’t help. But it does.
The University of Rochester Medical Center tells us journaling helps because it is:
- A great tool to manage the big 3: anxiety, stress and depression
- Can improve mood by supporting proactive thinking and positive self-talk
- Can highlight progress; use it to prioritize problems and track situations
When I first began journaling 7 years ago, I worried about what to write. For writing prompts, I use dailypage.com, which emails a new prompt daily and provides a place to type your writing, although you can certainly use the prompt with pencil and paper. Some basic prompts to use repeatedly, as you like:
- How do you/did you feel emotionally? Physically?
- How did you react?
- What caused a situation? Can it be stopped, slowed down, prevented?
- What’s a memory of your loved one from a time when they were healthy?
- What would a best friend tell you to do about ____________?
- What will you tell yourself in 5 years about _____________?
- 3 things I am grateful for: (or other lists)
Journaling is meant to help you consider your life and your reactions to it. Prompts don’t have to be elaborate or complex, just thought provoking.
Sometimes people feel bad after they write or can only think of bad things to write. Psychologists say caregivers process feelings when they write them down and through their exploration, can better understand the source of a feeling, even when emotions are uncomfortable. This makes sense to me as I look back at the anger I felt when my parents were gravely ill. My journaling helped me realize I wasn’t angry with them, but at the diseases that robbed me of them. (Please note: Experts say to seek professional help if you think about harming yourself or your loved one.)
Hearing from other caregivers always inspires me. A seasoned caregiver, B. Lynn Goodwin, wrote “You Want Me to Do What?”: Journaling for Caregivers to share the tremendous rewards she found in journaling. She realized writing supports your mental health, helps you heal, gives you space to analyze your thoughts/self/situation privately, and is a way to explore, be joyful, and learn. Her book talks about the “how” and “why” of writing as well as gives 100’s of prompts for different parts of the caregiving journey.
So, what do you say—are you ready to rip the paper off this gift? For 28 days, the time it takes to form a habit, write daily, for 10 minutes (less than 1% of a day). Write however you like—a letter, an anecdote, or about a thought. Write on paper, on a computer, or speak into a dictation app on your phone, such as Dragon Dictation.
Journaling can help you be happier and feel more in control of your life and the caregiving role you’re playing. That’s the real gift.
Lee Nyberg is a partner at Home Care Assistance of Nebraska. She focuses on disease specific education for caregivers, co-leads a Parkinson’s support group, and is a Legislative Advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association.