Journaling for Nurses (Improving Mental Health)

April 27, 2022 Scott Gillis

For the better part of two years the Covid pandemic has taken a toll on everyone, but no group of people more so than those in our healthcare community and within that community nurses and nursing staff. Nurses are the frontline care workers that act as a caregiver for patients and helps to manage physical needs, prevent illness, and treat various conditions. It is a role that encompasses a large percentage of the trust.  With the rates of illness and deaths from Covid at astronomical rates, it is this close relationship that has taken a toll. Many in the industry have gone through incredible psychological distress and trauma with what they have seen and dealt with.
Many recommendations for bettering your mental health can range from getting exercise to eating healthier, practicing meditation and seeing a therapist. One idea that has gained popularity in recent years is journaling. Journaling is simply writing down one’s thoughts and feelings to better understand them more clearly. Nurses in the field have struggled and continue to struggle with stress, depression, and anxiety, and keeping a journal can help gain control of your emotions and improve your mental health.
"Of almost 1,200 nurses who responded to the survey last month, 44% described their mental health and well being as “bad” or “very bad” – a 10% rise on the 2020 survey. In addition, 62% felt their mental health was “worse” or “much worse” now than it was during the early spike in cases last spring." (Source)
So how does one get started with journaling and what are some best practices for getting started?
1.     Start small: Journaling can overwhelm you when you first get started. I know for me I never quite know what words to say, like in-person therapy you feel like you may be judged. Do not fear your thoughts. The best idea is to establish a regular and consistent time to journal (i.e. first thing in the morning or before bed) and start with writing whatever is on your mind for 5 minutes or less. Then close the book. Don't reread your note.
2.     Journaling helps lowers your stress levels: Your journal is a place for you to be truthful about the things you’re struggling with while also honoring yourself for the brave choices you’re making towards self-improvement.
3.     Commit to doing it regularly: Most struggle to take the time to do it as they never seem to have the time. This is important for your overall health so think of it as a promise to yourself, or an opportunity to let go of the tight grip stress has over your day-to-day life.
4.     Forget about rules: There is no wrong way to journal. This is about your truth and your own experiences. Don't focus on grammar or spelling errors, just write in a constant thought flow and let go of formality.
5.     Celebrate, treat it as a special event: Embrace journaling as a big event in your life every day. Turn it into something you look forward to doing. Pick a spot in your home and set a personal mood beforehand (i.e., music, candles, etc.). Remove any distractions and activate the reward center in your brain by choosing a journal that evokes a smile, use your favorite pen.

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In today's demanding world, it can be difficult to find time to look within and consider how you're feeling. "Specific to this pandemic, we know that nurses are experiencing significant depression, anxiety -- "burnout" -- as it's been measured, and they're leaving; they're leaving our hospitals and health systems in droves."
Journals allow you to express those feelings, and they grant you a safe space to name all the different emotions you may be feeling at any given moment. To mitigate the burnout and stress levels that come with being a nurse practitioner, journaling is a perfect personal exercise to reclaim your mental health. Remember there is no wrong way to journal. Take these last tips to get you started. Talk about your day, identify things you're grateful for, describe a goal, list and describe your emotions, or write a message for yourself on bad days.
Over time, journaling—particularly gratitude journaling—may improve mood. Calling your attention to positives may help restore this balance. Writing about what's going on around you can help keep you in the current moment—and out of the past or future. 
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