For newly diagnosed patients and those who have been living with pancreatic cancer, waves of fear, sadness and anger can arise any day, taking a toll on the body, mind and spirit. Coping with these turbulent times is a personal process that requires knowledge and practices to help make life still manageable and hopeful.
Although it may be more difficult to express stressful sentiments, having an outlet to communicate them can be comforting and even liberating. One outlet to ease stress is reflective writing or keeping a journal. Writing about your thoughts and feelings gives you a way to observe them instead of being consumed by them.
Journaling is also a personal experience, which means it’s not about doing it the right way or wrong way. It’s just a matter of doing it in such a way that feels helpful along your cancer journey. And for some, the exercise can actually be healing.
Medical research confirms that “expressive writing” may minimize stress and help cancer patients feel better emotionally, mentally and physically.1
Writing can be an easy way to articulate thoughts and feelings, particularly those you don’t want to or can’t bring yourself to express out loud. But it may be challenging at times to get the words out. Try these tips to help you get started.
How to Start Keeping a Journal
- Choose Paper or Digital: Experiment with using a pen and paper or typing on a computer, tablet or smartphone. Stick with the choice that you end up using more.
- Make It a Habit: Try writing at different times of the day to discover what works best for you. In the morning, may get your day off to a good start. At night before going to sleep, may help you reflect on the day and relax. Or simply whenever it feels most useful.
- Write What Matters: You are the author of your life, so write about what matters to you. Even when nothing important or interesting comes to mind, writing down that fact can become a meaningful act in itself.
Keeping a journal is fundamentally about self-care. It provides a simple way to record your journey and clarify what you don’t want to forget. It can also help you get a bigger picture of your life and inform your choices and actions.
Give each of these reflective writing approaches a try to see what works well for you.
Different Types of Journaling
- Being Grateful: Focus on whatever you’re thankful for. Gratitude brings you into the present where you pay better attention to life with a positive outlook. As a result, you see more and more for which to be grateful and feel happier.
- Letting It Flow: Let the little judge inside your head take a rest, and allow whatever words moving through your mind make it on to the page. If the thoughts are not flowing, just write down the words that do arise, even if they don’t make sense. It can often be helpful to simply start with the word “I” followed by the thought or feeling that comes next.
- Going Beyond Your Own Words: Drawings, emails, cards, quotes, poems, photos…put whatever you want in your journal that expresses your thoughts and feelings.
- Keeping It Simple: Just write one word or sentence about the day.
It may be helpful as well to share your writing with others via social media or a blog. Whether or not others have been touched directly by pancreatic cancer, they may simply be moved by you sharing your personal journey. You can also use your journal to help you speak with loved ones or mental health professionals about your thoughts and feelings.