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How to use a journal to track your progress in combating arthritis

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Keeping a journal is a practice that millions of Americans already do. You may even be one of them — perhaps you jot down thoughts about each day as it comes to a close, or seek motivation and courage by baring your soul to the page. 

Today we’re here to talk about using a journal for another practical purpose — tracking your arthritis treatment journey, in order to better manage your routine and track results, and to remember what works and what doesn’t. 

Journaling can be used for far more than tracking romantic crushes or reflecting on one’s past. It’s actually a perfect tool to better your future. Join us, and you may even find yourself noting other stuff about your routines and practices as well, perhaps things you’d never taken the time to notice before.


The science behind journaling and arthritis

In 1999, a randomized trial looked at the connection between patients with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis and the practice of writing about their condition. The intention was to measure psychological needs and whether addressing them can have physical health benefits.

This sounds like a complicated thing to study, but can we say, science is simply amazing. This study managed not only to measure tangible benefits of writing about stressful or painful situations, it both tied it directly to Rheumatoid arthritis. Not to get all woo-woo, but sometimes there actually is something to be said for opening up and being honest with yourself.

Rheumatoid arthritis patients in the experimental group showed improvements in overall disease activity (a mean reduction in disease severity from 1.65 to 1.19 [28%] on a scale of 0 [asymptomatic] to 4 [very severe] at the 4-month follow-up,” the study found.

  • Journal tip: Include anecdotes in your journaling, and try to capture the emotions that you felt during the day, rather than just taking bland notes. This helps to make journaling more fun and engaging, which in turn makes it easier to build into a habit. The last thing you want is for something that is supposed to help your arthritis and mood, to feel like a chore.


What are the mental benefits of journaling?

First, writing something down helps you remember it. This can be useful for nearly every step of your arthritis treatment plan. Writing down in a journal your medication regimen keeps it top of mind (get it?) both mentally and visually because you’ll see it each time you add another entry to the journal.

Furthermore, a journal allows you to track thoughts and feelings related to stretching, diet, doctor’s visits, even how working at the office or with the kids may have impacted your joint pain that day. By tracking these thoughts, you can be better prepared for your next doctor visit and know which activities cause added strain on your impacted joints.

Journaling also allows you to unpack your thoughts, both related to arthritis and to life in general. If a day went well, writing about it helps you determine exactly what was so good about it. Conversely, if you felt more pain than normal or had a stressful experience at the doctor’s office, noting your thoughts can be just as good as venting to someone else. Try to focus both on your symptoms and treatment, and on other major points throughout your day. You’ll be surprised at how often the two go hand in hand!

  • Journal tip: Create a section in each entry that details your medication routine, treatment, stretching exercises, and any immediate notes related to how they made you feel. For example: Monday: took Omega-3 supplement, did 10-minute stretching routine. Felt tired afterward, but felt loose and more agile than normal on Tuesday morning.


What if my arthritis makes it too painful to write?

If you experience pain in the wrists that makes it tough to write more than a couple of words, get a rubber grip for your favorite pen. We also recommend using a thick pen rather than the thin pens purchased in bulk at most stores. Gel pens tend to write without needing the extra force sometimes necessary to draw letters with an ink pen. 

Compression gloves may help take some of the pressure off the joints while you write. You may even find that any thin glove helps — such as driving gloves or the pair you pop on to take the dog for a walk or check the mail on a chilly day.

Some find it useful to type their journal into a doc on their computer or tablet, rather than writing by hand. Tablets can be very handy, and they’re larger than mobile phones but still offer touch screen typing rather than having to push down keys at every letter.

Lastly, speech-prompted typing software can be used during periods of extreme pain.

  • Journal tip: There’s no need to write expansive paragraphs if complete sentences are too painful. Use abbreviations and symbols to note treatments, feelings, and successes/failures. For example: Doctor’s visit can be abbreviated to DV, while exercise can be noted with an “E” or “S” (for stretching). Medications can be noted by their first two letters, and even daily activities like work (W), Time WIth Kids (K), and Rest Periods (RP) can be noted in shorthand. Use bullet points to separate notations, with a header like “Today’s activity”

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