How to Journal About Your Health

And Why You Should
By Jess Friedman

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You know what I’m grateful for? Health insurance. And boy howdy, I have needed it this year.

After two months of trying to figure out why I was experiencing some strange symptoms, I ended up in the ER with extreme abdominal pain. What followed were two incorrect diagnoses, a laparoscopy that revealed the true culprit, a transfer to another doctor because I didn’t feel Doc #1 was providing the best quality of care, and finally, an accurate diagnosis and an open myomectomy to remove two fibroids roughly the size of my uterus. (TMI? Sorry…)

And through the whole ordeal, details recorded in my journal were both a valuable tool for keeping track of various tests and treatments and a means of processing what was, at times, a traumatic experience. It also gave me an outlet for recording the Lord’s tender mercies and the loving support I received from friends and family who rallied around me. 

While writing about health events might not be the first thing that pops into mind when the topic of journaling is mentioned, keeping a record of these experiences is helpful in a variety of ways. If you’re dealing with health issues of your own, here are some tips for how and why you should write about them in your journal.

A Helpful Record

First and foremost, journaling about your health can be useful when talking to your doctor. I often take my journal with me to appointments so that when my providers ask about symptoms, treatments, and timelines, I can give them the right details. I also take notes during the appointment so that if I have questions later about what was discussed, I can refer back to what I wrote. 

If you’re like me and you go through journals quickly or your health issues span months or years, keeping a dedicated health journal can be a great way to keep everything easily accessible. You can create sections for immunizations, doctor’s visits, hospitalizations or surgeries, medications and dosages, your family medical history, and injuries or illnesses. You can also use your health journal to track your progress on things like reaching wellness goals, establishing exercise habits, etc.

And maybe it’s a bit obsessive of me, but when I call health providers, insurance, or billing, I write down who I spoke to, what time/day, and what we discussed. That way, if there’s ever an issue, I have a written record to back me up.

woman writing in a journal near a lake
Photo by Uinmine (Adobe Stock)

Processing Emotions

Health issues can be hard. My experience at the ER left me with more questions than answers. Our four-year struggle with infertility has been heartbreaking. And after my final surgery, it was incredibly disppointing to hear my doctor say that I would need to put off trying to get pregnant for six to twelve months to give my body enough time to heal.

Writing about my experiences has been integral to helping me process and deal with the emotions they’ve caused. In fact, a 2009 study by the University of California Los Angeles indicated that the very act of writing anything about these experiences—be it a journal, song lyrics, poetry, or whatever—has a positive effect on our ability to regulate emotions.

So if your health issues are causing some complicated feelings, writing about it in your journal might be just what the doctor ordered.

Good for Your Health

Journaling about your health is also good for your health. Studies have shown that writing about traumatic events, such as health issues, can lead to increased physical and mental wellbeing, especially if the writer uses this written expression to try to make sense of their experiences. Writing in general also decreases stresshelps wounds heal faster, improves immune function, and can even help with fighting specific deseases, including cancer.

Expressing Gratitude

Our health experiences aren’t always negative, and even during the hard ones, we can find reasons to be grateful. As frustrating as it was to have to switch doctors mid health crisis, I’m grateful that it led me to a doctor who is a much better fit for my needs. I’m grateful to finally have answers about symptoms I’ve been dealing with for years. I am grateful for the members of my family and church community who made meals and kept my home tidy until I was back on my feet. I’m grateful for the quiet moments of assurance I received from the Lord and answers to prayer that led me to the best treatment plan. 

As you journal about health issues, be sure to include the details you’re grateful for. In the aforementioned study about the positive impact of journaling to make sense of an experience, researchers also noted that study participants who focused more on writing about the negative side of their experience tended to report more physical illness. Furthermore, if you’re not naturally oriented toward gratitude, you can practice gratitude techniques (like gratitude journaling) and still reap the benefits for up to six months! 

President Henry B. Eyring wrote this about keeping a daily journal of things he was grateful for:

Before I would write, I would ponder this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.

More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers. I felt more gratitude for the softening and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. And I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance—even things we did not notice or pay attention to when they happened.

A Blessing to Others

Your journal doesn’t have to be something you plan on passing down to future generations, but if you do, a record of your health can also be a blessing to your posterity. Not only can it help them understand their family medical history, but it can provide comfort and guidance when they face challenges of their own. A 2010 study by Emory University even showed that an understanding of our family history is a key variable in “general sense of self-worth, the ability to plan for the future and acceptance of one’s self, and fewer internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors” among teens. 

Prompts to Get You Started

If you’re not sure what to write, here are some prompts to get you started journaling about your health: 

  • What symptoms have you experienced? When did they start? Has anything helped you feel better?
  • Who is your doctor? How do you feel about their level of care? 
  • Have you received a diagnosis? What tests were done to help your doctor reach their conclusion? How do you feel about the diagnosis?
  • What have you learned about your diagnosis? Where do you get your information? 
  • What are your greatest fears or anxieties right now? What helps you feel more positive and hopeful?
  • Who has helped you today? What did they do? How did it make you feel?
  • What has your health issue made difficult? What has helped make things easier?
  • What has been the worst part of this experience? What has been the best part?
  • What have you taken for granted with your health? How have health issues helped you feel grateful for that? 
  • What do you want your children/grandchildren to know about this experience?
  • What advice would you give to someone else experiencing a similar health issue?
  • What are you doing to take care of your mind and body while you heal? 
  • What is your favorite thing to do to feel rested? 
  • What have you learned about yourself through this experience? 
  • How has this experience changed your life or future behavior? What hasn’t/won’t change?
  • How have you seen the hand of God through this experience?

How has journaling about your health helped you?
Share your experiences in the comments below!

Jess

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Jess Friedman

Jess Friedman

Jess is a Canadian-American who's always ready for the next adventure. She loves all things living, always has a million creative projects in progress, and polishes her nerd badge daily. She is passionate about strengthening families by empowering women to make space for things that bring them true and lasting joy. You can read more posts by Jess here.
Jess Friedman

Jess Friedman

Jess is a Canadian-American who's always ready for the next adventure. She loves all things living, always has a million creative projects in progress, and polishes her nerd badge daily. She is passionate about strengthening families by empowering women to make space for things that bring them true and lasting joy. You can read more posts by Jess here.

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