Over 65 million Americans serve as caregivers for disabled or older family members. While caregiving can be fulfilling, it also comes with many challenges. Stress, depression, anxiety, and loneliness are some of the biggest mental health challenges associated with caregiving. In fact, 40 to 70 percent of all caregivers (paid and unpaid) report feeling depressed and lonely as a result of their responsibilities.
If you are in a caregiving role and dealing with any of these issues, journaling might seem like a daunting task to add to your daily routine. However, keeping a caregiver journal can bring a wide range of benefits. It can help you notice patterns, solve problems, and improve your mental health and well-being. In this article, you will learn how journaling can help you better navigate and manage the various challenges of being a caregiver.
What is a Caregiver Journal?
A caregiver journal is a place for you to write down your thoughts, feelings, experiences, and the joys and struggles of your daily life. The most important thing is that it’s just for you. This isn’t a place where you write down your recipient’s medications or keep track of appointments with the doctor; rather, it’s a place for you to express yourself without judgment.
The Benefits of Keeping a Caregiver Journal and Planner
There are many mental health benefits to journaling. Journaling can help you manage anxiety, promote stress relief, and deal with depression.
When you tangibly write your concerns and fears on a piece of paper and can see the words written out, they become much more identifiable. When we know how to identify them, we can work on ways to resolve and cope with them.
Journaling Can Help Caregivers Manage Depression
Depression during caregiving can happen when you are unable to care for your own mental health needs while caring for the older or disabled person in your life. Recognizing and validating your needs when you are constantly caring for someone else can be difficult and uncomfortable. However, neglecting your own needs can affect how well you’re able to care for your recipient.
Here are some tips for how you can use a journal to help you cope with caregiver depression:
1. If you feel sad, write about why. After you’ve written what makes you sad, pause for a minute and let yourself simply be sad. This helps you recognize why you’re feeling a certain way and to validate your own feelings.
2. If you feel hopeless or purposeless, write about why you feel this way. If you know what caused these feelings, write about them. If you don’t know what caused these feelings, write like you’re trying to explain your hopelessness to someone else. This could help you understand it better.
After you write about your feelings, counter them. Use declarative sentences such as “I do have hope because…” or “These are the things that make me happy…”.
Doing this isn’t meant to minimize your experiences. Rather, it can help shift your perspective so that you get in the habit of acknowledging the good along with the bad. Even if the positive things in your life seem small, acknowledging them can help you maintain a more balanced and healthy outlook.
Journaling and Planning Can Reduce Caregiver Anxiety
Anxiety is characterized by constant worrying, feelings of impending doom, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, and excessive sweating. It can be sustained over a long period of time or show up in short bursts randomly throughout your day. Anxiety is a common mental illness in caregivers. This is due to the intense pressure and responsibility caregiving entails.
Journaling for anxiety may look something like this:
1. Make a list of things you’re anxious about, in order of most-concerning to least-concerning.
2. One by one, go through the list and write out worst-case scenarios for each worry.
3. Go back through your list and cross everything out. In a different colored pen or bigger font, write “If this happens, I will be okay.”
We may not have control over what happens in our lives, but we do have control over what we do. By writing down the worst things that can happen, we may realize how small those possibilities are, and this may help diminish our anxiety.
Journaling Can Relieve Caregiver Loneliness
Caregiving requires sacrifice. You may have to decrease hours at your job, spend less time with your immediate family and say no to social events and outings because of your caregiving responsibilities.
This sacrifice is not a difficult decision for most, as caregivers love their patients and family members. However, neglecting to pursue other relationships in your life and maintain a caregiving-life balance can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Caregivers may feel as though nobody else understands the challenges they face or the difficulty of their situation. Caregivers severely decrease their social interaction as they have to be with their recipients often all day and night. In fact, sometimes the only social interaction caregivers partake in is interacting with their recipients, and if those recipients are dealing with dementia or other conditions that make socializing difficult, then caregivers can become even more lonely.
Journaling is especially effective for those who feel lonely. This is because writing helps us tell our stories, even if nobody else is really listening. We can experience the interaction of conversation when we write.
To journal for loneliness, write about yourself. Write expressively and write about what happened during the day or week. Write about what you felt during the week and why. Write about future dreams and goals you have.
Journaling Relieves Caregiver Stress
Caregiver stress describes a form of stress that accompanies caring for another person. If you care for a family member, you are likely with them 24/7. If you are a paid caregiver, you may be on-call throughout the night. These responsibilities and duties can be draining and cause you to feel too exhausted to care for yourself. This is caregiver stress.
Journaling for caregiver stress can look like writing about specific incidents that make you feel sad, angry, bitter, overwhelmed, and hurt. Venting your emotions can help promote relaxation and calmness.
Journaling Can Help Caregivers Find Solutions to Tough Challenges
Journaling helps not only with exploring your feelings, but also with making plans and moving forward during times of uncertainty. When you are facing a difficult decision, it can help to write down all of the different thoughts you have about the choices before you and
If you’re trying to reach a goal or overcome an obstacle for yourself or the person you’re caring for, you can use your journal to articulate your goals and break down the steps to reaching them. This can make daunting or overwhelming tasks feel more tangible and achievable.
Journaling Can Help You Get Back in Touch with Your Own Thoughts, Feelings, and Emotions
One of the most important aspects of a journal is that it’s a personal document that no one else will read. You can write whatever you want in it, without fear of judgment. So let yourself write what you really think and feel. Dream big. Talk about your struggles. Write about things you wish could happen.
It can be hard to do this at first. Most of us grow up learning to fit into a certain mold, and we don’t always know how to express our true feelings. Your first few entries might just say, ‘I don’t know what to write’. That’s okay! The more you practice, the more you’ll be able to get in touch with your inner thoughts and emotions.
To help get you started, consult a list of emotions to help put words to the things you’re feeling. It might seem silly, but being able to express yourself can help release those emotions and better communicate your needs to others.
How to Start a Caregiver Journal
To maximize the benefits of journaling, try to write at least once a day. Whether this is first thing in the morning or right before bed, getting in a journal session helps you keep track of your mental health and make progress. Find what works best for you. Maybe you enjoy typing, or maybe you enjoy writing in a notebook. If writing doesn’t work for you, try making voice recordings on your phone. Pursue whatever method you enjoy the most.
Another tip for getting started is to just write. You don’t have to create complicated sentences to reap the benefits of notebook therapy. In fact, writing exactly what’s on your mind may be the most therapeutic form of notebook therapy. Don’t stress over the way you sound or having perfect grammar. If you are journaling at all, you are successful.
Look for patterns in your journaling. Maybe you notice a trend of anxiety after specific incidents when caregiving, or when your recipient spends time with specific family members. Maybe you notice trends in depression on the weekends when you are missing out on family or friend events to be with your older adult.
You may also notice cycles of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and stress that keep occurring in the same order. Being aware of patterns and trends can help you get a new perspective on your struggles.
What to Include in Your Caregiver Daily Journal
While your journal is a space to talk about whatever you want, it’s also important to write about positive things. Make a list of positive prompts to write about. These can rewire your brain and shift your perspective while your circumstances may remain the same. For example, write about things you are grateful for or things that make you happy.
Write about the people in your life that had the biggest positive impact on your life. Write about the benefits of caregiving, especially associated with your recipient. You can also write about positive things you’ve learned from caregiving and what you hope to do in the future.
These journaling strategies can help you maximize the benefits of notebook therapy and greatly improve your mental health and wellness!
Additional Self-Care Resources for Caregivers
If you’re dealing with caregiver stress, reach out to others. Consider joining a support group near you. There are numerous online caregiver support groups that provide invaluable information and peer support to help you navigate the challenges of caregiving. If you need more time to rest, ask another family member if they’re available to take over once in a while. If you need someone to talk to in person, reach out to a therapist.
Reserve a certain amount of time each week for yourself. You can dedicate this time to a hobby you enjoy, physical exercise, self-care in the form of a spa day, or just time to sit down and read a book or watch your favorite television show. You can also use this time to spend an afternoon with friends and stay connected to family members.
You might feel like caring for the older adult in your life rests solely on your shoulders. However, there are organizations that can help. Consider contacting a caregiving resource to allow you to take a break.
It can be difficult to introduce another form of caregiving into your family member’s routine, but the benefits can allow you to get the rest and time you need to treat them well.
When to Seek Help
As a caregiver, anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses can be severe and may go unnoticed or ignored for a long time before you finally break down. If you notice any of the symptoms of depression, anxiety, or hopelessness, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional.
Seeking counseling may help you as you integrate notebook therapy into your life.
As you navigate the joys, challenges, and mental impact of caregiving, it can be difficult to see the bright side. However, there is always hope. If depression or anxiety is something you struggle with, reach out to a loved one, friend, or therapist.
Being aware of declines in mental health is the first step to recovery. Implementing notebook therapy into your own routine could help you identify these struggles, recover from them, and learn to cope with them in the future!
There are a variety of resources to help you take care of the older adult in your life. To learn more about these resources and how you can make your loved one comfortable and more independent, check out these tools!