Losing someone we love through death is one of the most stressful events we will ever endure. That stress takes a toll, not only on our emotions, but on our bodies, as well. As we grieve, we are more prone to catch colds and develop other illnesses that are stress related, not to mention sleep difficulties and increased aches and pains. Journal writing can be a simple and practical way to relieve some of that stress and the problems it causes.
Research conducted at Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas and North Dakota State University shows that journal writing lowers stress and diminishes its symptoms. Writing about what has happened to us and how we feel about it for as little as two, 20-minute periods promotes emotional well being, boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure and decreases heart rate.
Putting words on paper allows us to express our painful feelings rather than stuffing them and carrying them around inside of us. We can pour our hearts out in a journal any time we feel like it. Our journals are always there to receive our thoughts and feelings. Unlike structured grief workbooks, our journals give us room to progress through our healing process at our own pace and in our own way.
Although fancy journals with leather covers and gold edged pages are available in most bookstores, raw grief often doesn’t fit on those pretty pages. Chances are you already have the most effective materials for starting a journal in your home. Spiral notebooks, composition books and sketchbooks allow you the freedom to be yourself without worrying about penmanship, spelling and grammar.
There is no right way to journal. During the early phase of grief you may not have the energy to set down more than a word or two each day to track your feelings or what you did. That’s fine. Every little bit helps.
Making lists is another good way to get started. You might want to make a list of what people have said that comforted you, a list of ways you can nurture yourself, or a list of all of the things about your loved one that you miss. The possibilities are endless.
As time goes on, writing will become easier. You may want to record the story of your loved one’s death and your feelings about it, your memories of the person who died and how knowing that person changed your life. Some people use their journals as a place to record prayers. Others write letters to their loved ones. Experiment to find out what works for you.
If you feel overwhelmed by your feelings and out of control as you write, take a break and set your journal aside. You can always pick it up again later or talk with your bereavement counselor about other avenues of healing.
Resources for Using a Journal to Cope with Grief:
- Managing Grief through Journal Writing
- This sensitive and wise article by Kathleen Adams presents 12 ideas and suggestions for keeping a journal in the midst of grief. Her suggestions provide structure to guard against the emotional overwhelm that newly bereaved people may feel when they first begin to journal.
- Being with a loved one during a death vigil often triggers intense feelings grief that we have difficulty expressing. This article from Hospice Net offers suggestions about how to use a journal to express your feelings in a journal during this stressful and painful time. Many practical suggestions are presented here.