How A Gratitude Journal Kept Me Going
I was recently thinking back on a very low point in my pancreatic cancer journey. Every little undertaking seemed monumental. Everyday things I took for granted that were performed with energy, enthusiasm and often with little effort, were now overwhelming. My road to recovery was not a straightforward path, in fact there was nothing encouraging about it at all. My mood was gloomy and it was difficult to fathom that every day was going to be like the last, where I just existed. This was unlike anything I had ever experienced and I desperately missed the healthy, energizer bunny that I had known myself to be. There was a consuming emphasis on the inability to control anything and the bleakness of the long days were excruciating.
Much has been written about Gratitude Journals but I had never participated in this form of activity. It was compelling to read about the studies which revealed writing down your feelings and expressing thoughts resulted in lowers levels of stress, reduced symptoms and the power to reframe your mood, which led to improved health. I was willing to try this, as it seemed little effort was required.
Without any premeditated thought, I began jotting down three things daily. I say "jot" because this is exactly what it was. Not a paragraph or a long journal entry. I needed this to be manageable and limiting it to just three entries made it plausible. I would include things that occurred daily that I might have been taken for granted in my old life. Such as…I was able to speak to a live person at the hospital and not an automated message (this was cause for celebration!). I was able to manage a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. I savored the view from my bedroom window.
At this stage of my journey, any activity was overwhelming so I wanted this to be an easy, uplifting experience, not something I felt I had to do. As time progressed, I became more creative with my entries and felt the freedom to write whatever I was feeling knowing this was not going to be judged or edited. My pen filled the page with positive events and filled me with gratitude.
Rather that looking at what I had written at the end of each day, I would review them at the end of the week. It was almost as if I was unwrapping seven beautifully wrapped packages, all for me! Reflecting on these simple gestures and incidents would fill me up with observations, flavors and memories. They would make me smile and a feeling of hope and revitalization would take over.
We act because of the way we feel, but we also feel because of the way we act. Changing how we feel can make a big difference. Expressing gratitude - the very act of my committing to a daily routine revealing my thoughts and reliving these moments - made a huge difference in how I felt and the lens in which I viewed life in this dreadful situation. Ordinary actions assumed a noteworthy face. Reading my entries at the end of the week empowered me, turning this bleak situation into something manageable and hopeful. I could never guess that such a simple, inexpensive activity could bring tears of joy and sorrow, gratitude, love and appreciation for everything, and especially for everyone around me.
Studies have been performed to determine if gratitude decreases pain and depression, and boosts happiness. Results have shown that writing about oneself and your personal experiences can improve mood disorder, reduce symptoms in cancer patients, reduce doctor visits, and improve memory. A study in Primary Healthcare Research and Development revealed that healthcare workers who catalogued why they were grateful experienced a 28% reduction in stress and that writing about gratitude halved the risk of depression for those who had a history of disease. People who listed things they were grateful for devoted more time to exercise and helping others.
My gratitude journal now took on a whole new meaning. Giving the gift of a small leather-bound journal to a patient and sharing my experience of how this changed my life really became a gift I gave to myself. Anticipation set in; what did they experience? And it never fails; I continue to hear heartwarming stories how sorrow and suffering turned into rays of sunshine and a newfound appreciation for living in the moment. Without the rain, we will never have the rainbows!
I believe I redesigned my outlook with achingly beautiful results and you can too! A gratitude journal is as close as your pen and the benefits are immeasurable!