Journaling and Cardiac Health

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Written by KURA Guest Writer- Doris Lu-Anderson, PhD, E-RYT500, I-CAYT

You may have heard about the positive powers of journaling, from improving memory and reducing stress to reducing your blood pressure. Journaling provides an opportunity to calm the restless mind, get settled, fill, and reconnect with your inner self.

What is Journaling?

Journaling is a way to record our thoughts and emotions to track our life. There are no rules for journaling. It can be done daily, weekly or any time without a set schedule. It can take the form of writing, painting, singing, and even taking pictures.

Journaling allows us to track patterns, improvement, and changes over time. It creates opportunities for us to reflect upon thoughts, calm down our minds, communicate with our inner self and/or inner child, and express our emotions. Looking back at our previous entries might illuminate past problems we have been able to overcome.

The Benefits of Journaling

During the cardiac healing process, there are various emotions that aggravate or inhibit our progress. One of those emotions is stress. A way to manage stressful moments is to journal because it is a helpful tool to calming our anxious mind (monkey mind), filtering out thoughts and emotions, and coping with depression (e.g., Smyth et al., 2018). In addition, journaling helps control symptoms and improve your mood by:

  • Helping us prioritize problems, fears, doubts, and concerns
  • Tracking any symptoms day-to-day so that we can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them
  • Providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors (University of Rochester Medical Center, n.d.)

What are the Styles of Journaling?

We are fortunate to have various journaling styles available to us. Select the one, or two (or more!), that resonates with you the most.

Here are several examples:

  • Written journals: Some people prefer free-writing. Simply, write out the things on your mind, jot down ideas and inspirations that can prove useful for all creative types without putting limits on what goes on paper.
  • Write a letter: Some people like to write a letter to themselves. If they are dealing with anxiety, depression, fear, addiction, grief, write a letter to these big, heavy concepts. Like Zen Master Thich Nhất Hạnh and renowned author Louise Hay said, elements such as fear, doubt, anger, and happiness are all parts of us. We do not ignore the heavy elements that we do not like. In fact, they are the reflection of our inner child or inner self. Inner self is who we really are and it can be categorized into different stages of life (e.g., child, teenage, adult). Therefore, we can always write a letter to our inner child or inner self, acknowledge their existence, give them some compassion, love, a hug and recognize the need. Gradually you might see your inner child and/or inner self relaxed.
  • Art journals: One style of art journals can be combining visual journaling and writing, to create finished pages. People may get a journal book and use arts and craft materials to express themselves. Everybody can give it a try, artists or not, because this represents the concept of applying Expressive Arts Therapy — -using a multi-art medium to explore the inner self and then observing the process.

Other styles use a variety of other mediums to a journal. For example, taking pictures to a journal, painting a piece of art into a journal, recording music or songs.

  • Prompt journals: This is another type of creative journal which can help trigger and nurture creativity. This is basically a journal that asks questions each day. The physical journal doesn’t need to be something you purchase, you can even create one.
  • Bullet journals: It is a flexible planner and journal system that you can personalize. It is a space where you have the convenience of editing it in a way to match your personality and lifestyle.
  • Themes: You may create a theme for your journal. For example, there are gratitude journals, healing journals, spiritual journals, and travel journals to name a few. Dr. Mills and his team (2015) recruited 186 participants with heart failure and found that gratitude was an important resource for alleviating the struggles associated with their symptoms. More gratitude was associated with less depression, better sleep, and less peripheral inflammation. A gratitude journal can be a tool to keep track of the good things in life. No matter how difficult and defeating life can sometimes feel, there is always something to feel grateful for. Some people write one thing a day they are grateful for. Some people like to use videos to record things they are grateful for. Some people like to write a note of gratitude and put it in a jar. When they need something to lift the mood, they can open the jar and review those beautiful notes to refill their emotional energy tank.

How Do I Start to Journal?

Try these tips to take your first step:

  • Follow your heart. Do not over-analyze your first steps, simply follow your instincts, pick one or two mediums (e.g., free writing style, gratitude notes in the jar) and then have fun with it.
  • Make it easy and accessible for yourself. For example, if you prefer to journal everywhere you go, have a journal book and pen with you. If you like to use photography to journal, have your smartphone or camera ready.
  • Set up a routine. Set aside 10–30 minutes for yourself at the end of your day to sit and write. Let your thoughts flow. If you set aside consistent journaling time, you will be more likely to note moments throughout your day that you want to write about later!

Journaling is a tool we can use to reflect upon our thoughts and de-stress. Studies have shown positive health benefits you reconnect with your inner self. There are many creative ways to journal so select one or two ways that resonate with you and begin your journey to healing.

References

Mills, P. J., Redwine, L., Wilson, K., Pung, M. A., Chinh, K., Greenberg, B. H., Lunde, Ottar, Maisel, A., Raisinghani, A., Wood, A., & Chopra, D. (2015). The role of gratitude in spiritual well-being in asymptomatic heart failure patients. Spiritual in Clinical Practice, 2(1), 5–17. doi: 10.1037/scp0000050

Smyth, J. M., Johnson, J. A., Auer, B. J., Lehman, E., Talamo, G., & Sciamanna, C. N. (2018). Online positive affect journaling in the improvement of mental distress and well-being in general medical patients with elevated anxiety symptoms: A preliminary randomized controlled trial. JMIR Mental Health, 5(4). doi: 10.2196/11290

University of Rochester Medical Center. (n.d.). Journaling for mental health. In Health Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 5, 2020, from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentID=4552&ContentTypeID=1

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