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A journal, cup of tea and a flower
24 April 2024

Journaling for wellbeing, for people with MS

Journaling can help us with stress management – one of the pillars of the Overcoming MS Program. As a follow up to Professor George Jelinek sharing his personal journals, we spoke to Heather O’Neil to find out more about why journaling is a useful tool for people with multiple sclerosis.

Journaling is such a wonderful way to navigate living with MS and to improve our well-being and stress management. As a therapist in the United States and a person living with MS I journal myself and often recommend it to clients to help them navigate their thoughts and feelings differently.

How to get started with journaling

To get started with journaling, it’s worth knowing that you can journal in a notebook (I personally like the feel of writing), on the computer or even on your notes app on your phone. I often encourage people to start with some expressive writing – which involves just sitting down and choose a time frame to write continuously whatever is showing up for you.

If that process feels daunting you could also choose a few prompts that you can start with like:  write about the best and worst thing that happened today/write down three things I’m grateful for today/ share an event from my day that was meaningful/how were my MS symptoms today.

Choice of tools to get started:

  • Journal on paper or in a notebook
  • Use your computer
  • Use a notes app
  • Dictating

“My simple advice is to just start writing. The actual benefit is to start writing, which is a good way to begin. It’s about how you feel. Concentrate on getting your feelings down on the page.” – Professor George Jelinek.

How to make journaling a regular practice

Just like other things in our Overcoming MS lifestyle, making journaling a consistent practice can be helpful. Having a journal by your bed and choosing to write at the end of your day can help it to become a habit.

If you already have a consistent exercise and/or meditation practice, you could tack on some time before or after these practices to write for a while. Setting up a time and space to journal can make it a really nurturing practice.

Why journaling is a good thing to do if you have MS

Journaling is a way of disclosing emotion rather than suppressing it and journaling forces us to organize our experiences into a sequence which can help distance us from our experiences and begin to see them in new ways. There is positive research about journaling as a practice. It has been shown to reduce anxiety, improve awareness, regulate emotions, improve wellbeing and boost physical health. All of which can be tremendously helpful in managing a chronic illness.

“Journaling is a good way of expressing your emotions. Also, when you write something down, it crystallizes it. Sometimes you even come up with a bit of a solution. I found a number of solutions to problems I was having” – Professor George Jelinek

How it has helped me with my MS

I’ve used journaling throughout my lifetime to process feelings and thoughts, navigate stress differently, and as an outlet for my experiences. When I was diagnosed, I used it to track symptoms and explore my anxiety that was activated at the time.

It has been helpful to also see the shifts in not only my MS symptoms over time but how my anxiety about this disease has also shifted. To me it feel like such a wonderful way to reconnect with myself and process intense feelings and thoughts.