A person hugs their journal close to their chest while a pen floats in the background

Benefits of Journaling

Last updated: July 2020

Living with advanced breast cancer can raise many different emotions and feelings as you process a diagnosis, go through treatments, and wrestle with thoughts about mortality. It can feel overwhelming and even have an impact on your physical health. While Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be helpful for many in working through feelings and emotions, these services are not available to everyone. Sometimes this is due to financial or insurance considerations. Other times it is availability in your area, your own comfort level, or stamina for getting out to appointments. This is where journaling can be a very helpful and affordable practice to aid in the processing of the many emotions you may experience.1-3

Why journal?

Getting your feelings out can provide relief for anxiety and reduce the build-up of stress you may be carrying. In different studies about the effect of journaling on those with health conditions such as breast and other cancers, arthritis variants , diabetes, COPD, asthma, kidney disease, heart disease, and stroke found a reduction in mental distress and anxiety and an increase in the participants' sense of self resiliency and social connection. In some cases, it has also shown to have improved blood pressure, reduced the number of doctor visits and need for prescription medications in heart patients, and overall improvements to feelings of well-being across the different health condition groups.1-3

What is journaling?

Journaling can take many forms, but the most common is writing. It is not something that must be done every day, but studies done have typically assigned participants to journal at least three times per week for a period of 15 to 20 minutes. Journaling is the process of writing out your feelings, your struggles, as well as your hopes and successes. It is about letting whatever you are holding in your heart out. Journaling can be a way of allowing yourself to be heard, even though no one else needs to read it. It can help you to voice and hear your own pain and progress.1-3

How do I start?

First, find a journal that you will enjoy using. If you have blank journals lying around but none of them are sparking your interest, go invest in a new one! There are so many choices. Consider things like the feel of the journal. Do you like a leather cover, a spiral-bound book, a soft paper cover, or a hardcover? What feels good in your hand? What kind of paper do you like inside it? Do you like lines or blank pages? Do you like textured, artisan paper, or mass-printed paper? Thicker or thinner paper? What sort of pen do you enjoy? Ballpoint, fountain pen, felt tip, or gel pen? What color ink? When you find what you like, buy several! Find a comfortable place to write. It does not always have to be in the same place! Maybe a kitchen table, or your easy chair. Some days it might be outside on the porch or in front of the fireplace. It could be at a park or a coffee shop (well, after social distancing restrictions are lifted!). It can also be done on the computer. Then, just write how you feel. Do not judge the words coming onto the page, how they look, if there are typos or inkblots. This is not meant to be a polished essay so do not try to revise as you are writing! Just let the words and emotions out. You are not writing for anyone but you. If you struggle to get started, consider using a journaling prompt. You can find many online, but a few examples are:

  • What would the perfect day look like for you? Describe it.
  • You are walking down a wooded path when an older woman approaches you. Your eyes meet, she hands you a slip of paper and continues on without a word. What does the paper say?
  • Write a letter to yourself at age 5, or 17, or 23, or whatever age feels appropriate. What would you tell yourself?
  • What is your deepest fear? How does it hold you back?3

Alternate techniques

You can also use images instead of written prompts. Cards or online images of famous pieces of art, or national parks, or places you have wanted to travel might work better for you. Find an image and reflect on it.

Journaling can also take the form of drawing, painting, vision boarding, collages, or whatever medium helps you to express your inner landscape.3

What does journaling look like for you? Share your process and experience with us!

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