Journaling with MS - A comprehensive guide
Journaling is very hot at the moment. If you’ve ever looked into it before you may have come across impressively formatted bullet journals and elaborate writing prompts.
It’s really come back into the picture with the continued rise of the self care and wellbeing movements over the past few years.
Journaling though is in essence just free-form writing. It’s about connecting with your thoughts and actions and writing them down. Yes, the same you might have done as a teenager. As an adult though it tends to contain less angst about homework and chores.
Scientific research has proven that it helps with stress reduction and all round wellbeing. There are different types of journaling for different purposes. For this purpose we’re talking specifically about journaling to help manage MS.
The good news is that the best way to do it is to keep it simple.
The benefits of journaling for MS can be
- Having a record of important symptoms and situations over time
- Seeing patterns and links between what you do and how it makes you feel
- Being able to move towards accepting your diagnosis
- Reflecting on feeling and emotions
- Being more able to cope with anxiety and stress
- Improving cognitive function through writing and linking ideas
- You’ll be able to give your neurologist a really good overview of your condition
How to start your MS journal
Start writing. It really is that easy.
Don’t worry about structure, format or content. There are some prompts here about what you might find useful to record but it’s really up to you.
It might feel strange at first. If you’re daunted by writing about thoughts and feelings (which is natural!) just start writing factually about what happened to you that day.
You can use an app like, Emilyn where you check-in with your mood and symptoms and there is a notes section that you can use to record things. You can do it by typing or voice to text. If you prefer to hand write things you can do that too. Grab a notebook, write today’s date and off you go.
What to write when journaling
Journaling is very personal so you can write whatever you want but if you're feeling daunted you can use this as a guide.
- What activities you did that day. How long did you do them for and how did they make you feel?
- Environmental conditions. Emilyn automatically stores the temperature but you might like to record things like humidity, air quality and pollen count if these affect you
- Detailed description of symptoms. You can record the severity from 1-5 in the check in but you might like to record more information. Things like:
- What was your pain like and any changes e.g. aching, stabbing, tightness
- Did anything you did make your symptoms better or worse?
- Your food and drink intake
- Medications that you took. Log what you took and any side effects that you noticed, if you missed a dose etc. You can also record any complementary therapies you used.
- How are you feeling? Be honest with yourself. Was it a good day or a bad one and what affected you.
Try reflecting on things you did and what you might change for the future
- Write down something positive that happened to you. Whether it's big or small, reflecting on good things that have happened are a way to keep balanced perspective even in tough times.
- Anything else at all that you want to record or remember
Facing your feelings
Journaling can be hard because it forces you to reflect on how you are and that’s tough. Depression, anxiety and mental health problems are incredibly common amongst people with MS (up to 50% of people struggle at some point).
Keeping a journal can help you to name feelings and think about strategies to cope with them. It’s also a place where you can write down the good things that happened to you. It’s natural to dwell on the negatives so remembering the good stuff can really help.
Positive things to reflect on
- One thing that made me smile today was...
- Today I ………. and it made me feel good
- I am looking forward to…
There can be times that you feel like journaling your feelings is too much. This is common during a relapse where you can’t see things improving. If that’s the case you can go back to practical factual writing until you feel ready.
If you’re interested more in journaling for emotional benefits you there is a brilliant article from Everyday Health and an MS Psychologist.
Ready to go?
You can use either a traditional notebook or a digital tool. You can journal in Emilyn whenever you feel like it. Start small and who knows where you’ll get to.