Journaling helps us process experiences as they happen and may improve our resilience.
I have been living with ulcerative colitis (UC), a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), for over 14 years now. For many of those years, I dealt with UC by, well, not really dealing with it at all. I took my medicine as instructed, and that’s about it. I never realized how much my negative mindset and self-talk about my health were holding me back from being fully present in my life.
I began to realize how much I was subconsciously internalizing my experience with UC and how disconnected I felt from my surroundings. So, I found a way to start being more present — through journaling.
Journaling became my outlet when I couldn’t outwardly express how I was feeling about my diagnosis, my constant flares, and the changes happening in my life.
Mindfulness is the practice of intentionally being present and aware in each moment. It also means staying open and curious throughout all the experiences life brings.
Journaling allows space for you to process your experiences at your own pace in an objective and nonjudgmental way. Processing through pen and paper is an opportunity to show yourself kindness. Show up for yourself and sit with your emotions for as long as you need to instead of pushing them down or running from them.
Journaling is a powerful mindfulness tool because it is both affordable and accessible — anyone can start a journaling practice anywhere at any time.
IBD takes a toll on the body — not just physically but emotionally and mentally as well. At least one study found that 30% of people living with IBD also suffer from anxiety and/or depression.
Living with IBD can feel a lot like navigating an emotional minefield, complete with social anxiety, fear of bathroom inaccessibility, loneliness when missing spending time with loved ones, frustration from feeling sick all the time, etc. However, at least one small study suggests that expressive writing can increase a person’s resilience to traumatic events and reduce depression and stress.
Developing a practice of mindfulness can help you to feel more at peace with your diagnosis rather than constantly feeling like you’re riding an emotional roller coaster. Living in the present moment can help you regain trust in yourself and patience with the journey of living with an autoimmune disease, let go of what is out of your control, and release judgment of yourself and your body.
Journaling is a great way to begin the practice of being mindful, whether you are in remission or in a flare.
I have always loved journaling as a way of expressing myself. Growing up, it felt like a safe way to express my emotions and how I was feeling about events happening around me.
When I was diagnosed with UC, I had a lot of dark days when I felt alone, frustrated, and hopeless. Journaling became a way for me to find my way out of the darkness, a safe space to sort through how I felt about my disease.
Currently, I love journaling as a part of my morning routine. I sit down with a hot tea and a cozy blanket and allow myself time to put all of my thoughts on paper before my day begins. This helps me to feel grounded and present and in a clear headspace to start my day.
We have an estimated 6,000 thoughts floating around in our heads every day, according to a study. But sometimes, we rehash the same thoughts, self-reminders, and worries on a loop. This exercise will help you clear some of that out. Just set a timer — try 5 minutes at first, then progress to 10 minutes in the future if it feels helpful — and write down anything and everything that is on your mind, no matter how big or small. Then, when you are finished, you can sort through anything that you need to get done, such as a constant thought of “I really need to make an appointment to see my gastroenterologist.”
This prompt has gotten me through a lot of hard times. I love going through this every morning because it sets the tone for my day. When I am in a UC flare, it’s easy to wake up and immediately start thinking about my pain, symptoms, or limitations. So, I make a cup of tea and sit down to write a daily list of everything I am grateful for.
Try it out, and I promise your mood will completely change.
This prompt is a newer one I developed during my latest flare as a way to pinpoint all the positive things that UC has given me. For a long time, I could only focus on what UC had taken away from me, and it only led me to sadness. Yes, my chronic illness creates some limitations, but it has also given me so many wonderful things that I may not have gained otherwise, like perseverance, an incredible amount of inner strength, and a heart for the chronic illness community.
I tend to be really hard on myself, so this journal prompt gives me the chance to reflect on all the ways I am proud of myself. What have I accomplished? What did I achieve despite the circumstances? What have I overcome?
This prompt can be a tough one at first, but I find it to be an important one. When I’m in a flare, I unknowingly carry around all kinds of fears about my health. Using this prompt, I am able to bring them to light and address them head-on.
I love this one! No matter what our circumstances are, there is always something, no matter how small, that brings us joy. Life is short, and it is important to seek out all the things that spark joy in our lives. If I’m having trouble with this prompt, I like to go on a walk and find all the beauty in my neighborhood that brings a smile to my face.
Whether I’m in an IBD flare or in remission, journaling helps me to re-center myself and focus on being present in my life. No matter what I may be experiencing, I always feel more at ease and clear-minded after a quiet session with a pen and paper.
Medically reviewed on December 16, 2022
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