How Journaling Can Help You With Chronic Pain and Anxiety
I have chronic pain, anxiety and panic attacks. This is my story of how journaling helped me handle them better.
If you think Karma is a bitch, you have clearly not said hello to a Fibro flare-up or an anxiety attack.
Chronic pain and anxiety can become debilitating conditions that prevent you from living life the way you want to. They can restrict the choices you have in life — actually or in your head.
They can make you a completely different person. You might either become a person who thinks and talks far too much about your pain or anxiety and how it affects your life or the person that buries everything inside and suffers silently.
You might become a person who pushes through everything, wanting to prove to yourself and to others that you are as good as “normal” people, or you might withdraw into your shell and become a prisoner of your own body and mind.
Above all, chronic pain can make you feel like your life has no purpose which, arguably, is even worse. Ironically, it is this feeling that would eventually prevent you from realising your life’s purpose.
Unfortunately, you may not realise making any of these choices consciously until it is far too late. You may not be in a position to accept and practice mindfulness yet either.
This is where the perfect midway comes in — journaling. Journaling, or the act of writing down your thoughts, emotions and feelings in a journal, is not only cathartic but also brings perspective, clarity and, eventually, mindfulness into a life filled with chaos and uncertainty.
Setting aside a certain amount of time every day to write about the events of the day, how you responded to them or how your body and mind felt that day can reveal a lot about your pain and anxiety.
- You will start noticing patterns.
You will notice that your flare up or anxiety invariably starts on a certain day, following certain types of activities, lasts for a certain number of days and then gets better. You will notice that not exercising on a day that you think you had pain only made it worse. You will notice that exercising for ten extra minutes on a “good day” also made things worse.
For example, I noticed that the level of my pain and fatigue was dependant on which day of the menstrual cycle I found myself in. This has helped me pace my activities better, especially on the days that I know were going to be difficult. Looking at my journal helped my specialist realise that most, if not all, of my complaints were due to a serious hormonal imbalance and therefore needed a different type of treatment.
2. You will begin to identify triggers.
This one is rather obvious but you will be astonished by the extent to which it will change your life. You will notice that certain events made your anxiety worse. You will realise that certain types of activities, when done without a break, increased your trigger point pain. You may notice that certain food groups made your digestion worse which, as we all know, is either a gateway to or an off-shoot of chronic pain and anxiety.
For example, I noticed that my periods were the only time when I had panic attacks and the time when I could not tolerate dairy or sugar. Eliminating these at certain times of the month has improved the quality of my life noticeably.
3. You will start to realise that you are on auto-pilot.
When you read about your thoughts and actions over a period of time, you will notice that you did not make a conscious choice in respect of most, if not all, of them. You may realise that you let your pre-conceived notions regarding your pain and anxiety levels determine your decisions.
For instance, you may have said yes to going out with a friend because that is what you have always done. Or you may have said no to a last-minute meeting request because you have always avoided such things to reduce pain and anxiety, without even stopping to think how you were feeling on that day.
You may realise that you are doing more than needed, simply because you have not re-adjusted your expectations based on your new reality.
You may realise that your chosen job or career is not conducive to your chronic pain or anxiety and that you may have to either adapt or change your professional life, whenever and wherever possible.
4. You will sleep better.
A lot of us with chronic pain and anxiety go to bed with our body screaming with pain and mind swirling with uncontrolled thoughts. We toss and turn with frustration, often annoyed with what we could not do that day and how we are going to face the next day. One of the best ways to avoid or at least reduce this would be writing all these down, pen to paper or typing on your laptop, so that they are all out of your system.
Most of what your brain wanted to torture you with will be out when your head hits the pillow and therefore, the chances of your sleep efficiency getting better are much higher with journaling than without.
5. You will feel less pain.
Most of us with chronic pain or anxiety try to zone out of our bodies as much as possible in the hope that we will not feel the pain or feel anxious. So the increased awareness that journaling brings might seem counter-intuitive. In reality, however, this awareness will help you see the good things in your life, make you want to do the things that you love (which in turn will increase your energy), release suppressed tension, and help you get our of a negative cycle. All this will slowly and steadily reduce the intensity with which you feel pain and anxiety, as well as regulate and stabilise your reactions.
In the least, journaling will provide you a safe space to open up about your feelings or make you a better writer, if that is more up your alley. You are certainly not going to lose anything so you might as well give it a try!