Are you struggling with a chronic condition? Let journaling put you in charge!
Chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are the leading causes of death and disability in this country and the drivers of the nation's $4.1 trillion in annual healthcare costs (www.cdc.goc). If you are among the estimated 103 million people living with a chronic condition, journaling can help!
A friend recently started taking blood pressure medication and contacted me because she “felt a little different” after taking the one pill a day that her doctor had prescribed. She wanted my advice on whether her feelings were normal and if she should contact her doctor immediately to let him know what she was experiencing or wait for her scheduled six-week follow-up visit.
My first question to her was if her blood pressure readings were within normal range. They were. So I advised her to journal her way to the answers she needed and start by keeping a log of her blood pressure readings.
Regardless of your chronic condition, journaling what you are experiencing each day brings answers, clarity and puts you in charge of a treatment plan that is best for you. Using my friend’s situation as an example, here are some small change tips to get you started:
· Buy yourself a journal or notebook and a pen. (small change – less than $2.00)
· Check your blood pressure twice a day and record the time and blood pressure reading on a sheet of paper in your journal. (small change –5 minutes)
· Describe “different” in your own words on a separate page in your journal. Include what you are doing when you start to feel "different" and be sure to add the date and time to your journal entries. (small change –5 minutes)
· Take your medicine, as prescribed, at the same time each day. (small change –1 minute)
· Journaling your feelings for a few days will help determine if the “different” feelings or merely your body adapting to the new medication or if you need to contact your doctor to discuss possibly changing the medication. Journaling will point you in the right direction. (small change -10 minutes)
· Take your journal with you to your follow-up doctor’s visits. That way, you have everything you need to ask and answer any questions you or the doctor may have.
And here’s something else you should know about journaling your chronic condition or diagnosis: good doctors and practitioners appreciate informed patients because it makes their job easier. They want you to keep track of your medical history. So keeping a journal of your condition, treatments, drugs, changes in condition, tests, and procedures are as beneficial to you as it is to them.
When you're sick, your judgment may not be as good as it needs to be; often you have forgotten vital information by the time you reach the doctor's office. That's when you need your journal. It also makes sense to jot down any special instructions from the doctor or nurse while you’re there for your visit. You don't have to rely on memory when you get home and you'll have it for future reference.
Even though research points out that journaling your experiences helps, statistics show that only around 33 percent of patients routinely do so. Therefore it is no surprise that patients, in general, need to learn what it means to take charge of their health. And here are a few other benefits of journaling your way through a chronic condition:
1. Journaling provides “emotional release.” Chronic conditions affect the body and take a toll on your mental and emotional health. Journaling provides a safe space to release pent-up emotions, express frustrations, fears, and anxieties. When you put your feelings into words on paper, you feel relieved and begin to take control of your emotions instead of letting them get the best of you.
2. Journaling enhances self-awareness by allowing you to delve deeper into your thoughts and feelings, and can lead to identifying triggers, patterns, or behaviors that worsen your symptoms. It also enhances well-being by enabling you to make informed decisions about lifestyle choices, medications, and self-care routines. Increased self-awareness leads to self-empowerment based on a better understanding of your condition and how to manage it.
3. As I mentioned in the blood pressure example, journaling serves as a "symptom and treatment" tracking tool that can enhance communication with healthcare providers, enabling them to make more accurate diagnoses and develop better treatment plans. Journaling also helps you remember pertinent details during appointments, leading to more productive discussions with medical professionals and better-informed decisions regarding your treatment plan.
4. Journaling offers you a positive focus on your diagnosis. Not only do you track your symptoms, treatment, and feelings, but it also allows you to record moments of joy, accomplishments, and daily victories.
5. Support and Connection: Although your journal is off limits to others, sharing tips from your journal entries, either through online platforms or with a trusted support network, can foster a sense of connection and understanding with others who may be going through similar challenges and reduce feelings of isolation.
And here’s the big win when it comes to journaling your chronic condition: A couple of dollars and a few minutes of your time (no more than 30 minutes a day) not only puts you in charge of your health, it can save you money and improve your quality of life, one small change at a time. Journaling my way through cervical spinal stenosis has literally and figuratively kept me up and mobile for 14 years.
So tell me, how could you journal your way to managing a chronic condition? I would love to hear about it or how you put my small change tips into practice. Just send me an email at email@example.com.