This Year, I’m Adding Gratitude Journaling to My Healthcare Toolbox

Keeping a journal can help you process emotions, such as negativity

Jennifer van Amerom avatar

by Jennifer van Amerom |

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The new year can represent a new start, except it isn’t, really. I still have neuromyelitis optica (NMO), and the challenges that existed in our lives last year are still here. But what a new year can become is a moment to pause, reflect, and commit to new habits that serve our bodies and minds.

During a recent checkup, my neurophysiatrist, who is supporting me in my pain, energy, and mood management, gave me some sound guidance. After 13 years with NMO, it’s rare for me to receive a treatment plan I haven’t already tried. But what stuck with me was what my specialist said.

“I would like you to start a gratitude journal and write in it every day. I also want you to meditate and commit to at least 20 minutes of exercise every day. Treat this as a prescription, which you can’t miss a dose on any day.”

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‘I’m too busy’ and other excuses

As patients, we’re supposed to make our healthcare a priority. But when it comes to certain elements of care, such as exercise and meditation, it’s easy to push them aside. That’s because there is no way for healthcare professionals to verify that we did the work. Gratitude journaling and meditation don’t show up in our bloodwork. And patients can bend the truth regarding their efforts.

As a busy mom and career woman, I always intend to prioritize myself, but I don’t.

New year, new effort

On the first day of 2023, I began gratitude journaling. It’s important that I focus on gratitude so that my daily thoughts aren’t negative and coming from a place where I’m just complaining.

Journaling helps us process our emotions. We can review our thoughts and decide if we were overreacting or if our behavior was justified.

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling has several benefits, including:

  • It can help us manage our mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and stress.
  • Symptom management can be documented and triggers can be identified, along with new ways to control them.
  • It provides a place for positive self-talk and a way to recognize whether we have a habit of unwarranted negative thoughts.

How to start

During a recent trip to my local bookstore, I found myself overwhelmed by the number of journal choices. There were so many pretty journals in different sizes, colors, and textures. They were certain to match any personality.

Some journals have a place to record the date, while others are simply lined sheets. Some provide prompts, such as the “Five-minute Journal,” which asks a few of the same questions for every entry.

As a patient, I thought that using a blank, lined-sheet journal was the best option for me. I selected one that is small enough to throw in my handbag. It allows me to jot down ideas, feelings, and thoughts while on the go.

I have also gotten into the habit of journaling every morning. Before my family wakes up, I’ll sneak downstairs, make myself a cup of tea, turn on some quiet music, and start writing.

While I use my journal to write down important times and dates — such as an upcoming checkup — or to describe something cool I encountered and want to remember, my primary focus is on gratitude — just as I was prescribed. Somehow, this newfound effort has put me in a better mood. By the time my family joins me for the day, I’ve usually written about them and all the things that I love about them.

And this takes away from the stark reality that I live with NMO — which is exactly what journaling is for.


Note: Neuromyelitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Neuromyelitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD).

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