Caregivers have one of the most stressful and thankless jobs on the planet. Managing caregiver stress is integral to handling the day-to-day job responsibilities.
You might have had someone recommend you begin keeping a journal, but what are the benefits of doing so?
Caregivers should keep journals to identify patterns, reveal inner feelings, reduce stress, and resolve conflicts. Data has proven that journaling of a regular basis can improve one’s immunity, which can keep caregivers on the job for longer.
This guide to journaling works for both professional or family caregivers.
We will delve a lot deeper into the advantages of the practice. We’ll also provide guidance on what to write about in the journal, including helpful prompts.
What Is The Importance Of Keeping A Journal?
Let’s begin by discussing why caregivers should begin writing in a journal. After all, as a full-time or part-time caretaker, you have a busy schedule and only have so many hours of the day to yourself.
Taking the time out to sit down and reflect and write about your day might seem like rumination and a waste of time, but it’s anything but.
Maintaining a journal can be incredibly beneficial for caregivers, providing a private space to process emotions, track the care they provide, and reflect on their experiences.
Here are the physical and mental health benefits you can expect.
1. Improves Your Health
Journaling can prevent you from bottling up feelings, which can have detrimental effects on your physical and mental health, but the benefits go deeper still.
A 2018 report published in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment found that journaling for three to four days for 20 minutes each day improves the ability to handle disease, infection, and stress by increasing immunity.
Other data suggest that journaling can speed up healing and improve sleep quality.
2. Lower Blood Pressure
Engaging in stress-reducing activities like journaling has been linked to lower blood pressure.
3. Improved Sleep
There is a substantial body of evidence suggesting that expressive writing and journaling can have various positive effects on mental health, which could indirectly contribute to improved sleep.
Healthgrades.com reports that, “In one study, 41 college students plagued by bedtime worries were randomly assigned to self-help strategies. One group was asked to journal every night for a week. The study found journaling reduced bedtime worry and stress, increased sleep time, and improved sleep quality.“
4. Reduced Physical Symptoms
Expressive writing has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, enhance mood, and improve overall psychological well-being.
Those who engage in expressive writing also have reported fewer physical symptoms associated with stress and anxiety.
5. Boosted Cognitive Function
Engaging in the act of writing stimulates brain activity, which can help in maintaining and even boosting cognitive function.
1. Improves Your Mood
Regularly expressing oneself in writing has been linked to improved mood and feelings of greater psychological well-being.
However, WebMD notes that, “Writing about an emotional event can help you break away from the nonstop cycle of obsessively thinking and brooding over what happened — but the timing matters. Some studies show that writing about a traumatic event immediately after it happens may actually make you feel worse.”
2. Identifies Patterns
Sometimes, we can go through life repeating the same patterns and scarcely realize it because we never stop to.
Writing about your day-to-day caretaking responsibilities frequently enough will help you identify those patterns in your own life, good or bad.
This gives you the opportunity to capitalize on healthy patterns so you can take better care of your physical and mental health.
You can also notice negative patterns as they begin to emerge but before they take an unhealthy toll on your life and curb them.
3. Helps You Understand Inner Feelings
Caretaking is all about prioritizing someone else’s needs over your own.
You might have inner feelings crop up throughout an average day that you have to squelch so you can remain professional.
However, bottling up inner feelings is unhealthy, as they have no outlet. Failing to express feelings of anger and anxiety especially can prevent cortisol functioning.
Kentucky Counseling Center notes that this could cause mental health issues, chronic health risks, and reduced immunity.
A journal provides a safe and private space for expressing emotions, which can be particularly beneficial in managing the complex feelings associated with caregiving.
4. Enhanced Coping Skills
Reflecting on challenging situations and writing about coping strategies can help caregivers to develop stronger resilience and adaptability.
5. Helps With Stress
Although reflecting on your stressors might seem to let them loom larger in your mind, this healthy habit can mitigate stress.
This is because writing about your experiences and emotions can help to offload some of the mental burden of caregiving.
Through journaling, you will better understand your stressors and the concerns, fears, and issues that trigger stress in your everyday life.
When those issues and concerns arise, you can begin prioritizing self-care to combat stress.
6. Resolve Conflicts
Conflict can be a regular occurrence as a caregiver. Sometimes, you might butt heads with your patient or their family or doctors.
You must be capable of swiftly resolving conflicts in your job, but that’s sometimes easier said than done.
Stepping away from a conflict and journaling about it helps you determine how to approach the situation.
Reflecting upon the matter might also allow you to see it from the other person’s perspective, which can help you two arrive at an agreeable conclusion sooner.
7. Preservation of Memories
A journal can serve as a record of the caregiving journey, preserving memories and experiences that might otherwise be forgotten.
9. Fostering Gratitude
Focusing on positive experiences and expressing gratitude in a journal can lead to a more positive outlook on life.
What Should A Caregiver Include In Their Journal?
Caregivers might opt to keep two journals, one for professional notes and another for managing their stress and interpersonal feelings.
Let’s review what the contents of both journals should include.
What To Include In A Caregiver Notes Journal
A caregiver notes journal is primarily about your patients, so here are some items to begin tracking.
- Daily Care Administered: What kind of care did you give your patient today? Did anything differ outside the norm, or was it all business as usual?
- Fluids Intake: How many fluids did the patient consume today? Write down what each fluid was, such as water versus apple juice, and try to track caloric intake if possible.
- Food Intake: What did your patient eat today, and how much did they have? Again, keeping a record of caloric intake is beneficial if you can.
- Mood: What was the patient’s mood like today? Were they happier than usual, sadder, or angrier? Has their mood been on an upswing or downswing for a while, and if so, what do you believe is attributing to it?
- Blood Pressure: Log the patient’s daily blood pressure. Is it higher than normal, or reading about the same? Make a note if it’s lower than usual, as that can also be an indicator of poor health.
- Weight: How much does the patient weigh today? Has their weight fluctuated? Try to weigh them at the same time each day for more accurate readings.
- Medications Taken: What medications did the patient take today? Did they start a new medication? If so, how did it sit with them? Have they increased or reduced dosages of any other medications or stopped medications?
- Tasks And Activities: What activities and tasks did the patient engage in today? Is there anything they’d like to do but were unable? Can you incorporate those activities into another day?
- Health Complaints: Does the patient have any health complaints today? Make a note of these, especially recurrent complaints.
- Questions and Concerns: List any questions or concerns that arise during caregiving. This can help in preparing for doctor’s appointments and ensuring that important issues are addressed.
- Feedback and Learning: Note down what strategies and approaches are working well, and what could be improved upon. This enhances the quality of care provided.
- Contacts and Resources: Keeping a list of important contacts such as doctors, pharmacists, and support groups, as well as any helpful resources that you have found.
What To Include In A Stress Journal
A stress journal is a caretaker’s personal journal. Here is what you can log.
- Mood: What is your mood today? Has it been better than average or worse than average? If it’s worse than average, is anything specific contributing to it?
- Stressors: Stressors are ongoing in your job, but which are affecting you the most frequently right now?
- Stress relief measures: What kinds of measures have you taken to relieve your stress? How effective are they? What else do you want to do to control stress?
- Sleep: Sleep is important for good physical and mental health. How much sleep do you get per night on average? Are you happy with how much sleep you get, or do you wish you could get more? Could you change your schedule to prioritize sleep?
- Eating habits: How much do you eat per day? What exactly do you eat? Try to keep track of caloric intake if possible.
- Exercise habits: Do you exercise? If so, how much time do you spend per day or week exercising? Do you notice any benefits in the hours or days to follow?
- Ongoing conflicts: What conflicts do you have with others right now? What do you think you can do to begin resolving those conflicts?
- Milestones and Positive Moments: Record any milestones reached by the care recipient, as well as any particularly positive or touching moments. This can serve as a reminder of the impact of your work and help sustain motivation.
- Other concerns: What other issues or concerns do you have that don’t fit into the above categories?
How Do I Create A Self-Care Journal?
Will this be your first self-care journal, or perhaps your first journal at all? If so, you might wonder where you even begin. Those blank pages can be so intimidating!
Here are the steps for creating your own self-care journal.
Purchase A Journal And Pens
Give your self-care journal the priority it deserves by purchasing a new journal rather than repurposing one you might already have lying around the house.
Choose a journal that speaks to your tastes, aesthetics, and personality.
Buy some pens, picking the style, ink color, and feel of the pen to reflect what you like.
Select Your Topics
The recommendations from the section above will help you get started whether you’re using your journal to manage stress, improve your self-care, or track your patients.
However, remember to keep separate journals for patient care versus your own.
The hardest part of the process is beginning. You might feel awkward writing in a journal at first, especially when discussing your own emotions, thoughts, and feelings.
The idea might seem foreign to you, considering how much time and focus you give others.
However, stick with it. Set aside time to write in your journal every day. Try to pick the same time, as this will help it become a habit.
Journaling will become an integral part of your life as you begin filling up pages, enough so that you’ll wonder how you went without doing it for so long.
Journal Prompts For Caregivers
Do you have a hard time coming up with anything to write about in your caregiving journal?
Here are some journal prompts that can help.
- Name five good things that happened to you today.
- How is your morning routine going? What about your evening routine? Can you make any changes to either?
- How much time do you take for yourself? Could you take more time?
- You had a tough day – what was so hard about it, and what can you do to make other days less difficult?
- What lessons can you extract from an ongoing situation?
- What is a long-term goal of yours? How can you achieve it?
- What is something you want to improve right now, such as communication or time management? How can you do it?
Remember not put too much pressure on yourself to journal any particular way.
An article from the University of Rochester Medical Center suggests: “Write or draw whatever feels right. Your journal doesn’t need to follow any certain structure. It’s your own private place to discuss and create whatever you want to express your feelings. Let the words and ideas flow freely. Don’t worry about spelling mistakes or what other people might think.“
Caregivers should keep a journal to manage their daily stresses, devise conflict resolution techniques, and get in touch with their emotions, which can be put on the back burner when caring for someone else.
We hope the information in this guide inspires you to begin keeping a journal!
*TIP: Other ways to help reduce stress can include activities like reading Bible verses aimed at caregivers and getting respite care, particularly if your stress level is high on a compassion fatigue test.