Whether you are journaling the old-fashioned way with a pen and paper or taking advantage of technology and the vast amounts of new apps available to you; the point is you should be journaling. Journaling during your health complications has many benefits whether it is for something minor or for a chronic condition.
Tracey Welson-Rossman, founder of the journaling app Journal my Health and Dr. Marta T. Becker, a Board-Certified Otolaryngologist share the top 6 benefits of journaling.
Read below to see why you may want to jot down your symptoms the next time you notice something abnormal.
Benefits of journaling
1. Allows your care team to work together
When you are dealing with a chronic condition, you will likely have a care team of several doctors working to treat you in different areas. However, unless your doctors are in direct communication with each other, it can be challenging to get treatments that don’t conflict with each other. Journaling not only your symptoms, but what medications and treatments you have received will help your doctors work together to treat you.
“There are all sorts of difficulties right now with doctors sharing information so it falls on the patient to collect their own data and bring it with them so that they have a central repository to not just the symptoms, but the treatments and how the treatments have worked. Were there any side effects? It’s essential to preparing to have a good visit with a provider,” Dr. Becker shares.
“One of the things that happens when you have a chronic condition is whether you are in diagnosis, pre-diagnosis phase, treatment or maintenance phase, you’re dealing with a lot of different health care people, not just physicians, I was dealing with a chiropractor, physical therapist and massage therapist,” Welson-Rossman, who was in a car accident shares. “I had all these different people who were supporting me in this journey and you would have to remember in between each different appointment what was going on with yourself– what happened in between. And I don’t know about you, but I’m lucky if I remember what I ate for breakfast this morning.”
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2. Provides organization
Oftentimes, we have a hard time telling our doctor what we are experiencing or even remembering how and when we experienced symptoms. This can create confusion and disorder and give the doctor a hard time pinpointing a cause. Providing your doctor with a detailed guide of the exact time, day, etc. you experienced symptoms can help.
“I think it’s important to how we’re presenting this information in a cohesive manner as you prep to go to your appointments so that when you’re showing that information, you’re not just showing six weeks of information and having the doctor take a look at it. How can we distill it and make it easier for the healthcare provider to create some actionable discussion around it?” Welson-Rossman adds.
“If a person were to journal and come in with a printout of their symptoms. It would just be like oh well it started here and it goes up and down here. It’s all there in literally one glance,” Dr. Becker shares.
3. Reduces the chance of being misdiagnosed
“When a doctor can’t pinpoint your symptoms, you have an increased risk of being misdiagnosed. A guy the other day who was able to describe to me a little bit better about his ear symptoms was able to notice for instance that it was better in the morning and then as he got up all day it got worse,” Dr. Becker notes. “You know that doesn’t sound like a huge breakthrough amount of information, but in his particular disease process, which is actually particularly rare, that piece of information for him was critical for me to understand. The more information he gave helped me figure out a treatment plan.”
4. Empowers you to notice key factors about your health
When you journal, you may notice things you hadn’t before, such as when you drink you may sleep badly or feel depressed. Noticing things like this can put a cause to what may be triggering your health issues so that you can make the necessary adjustments.
“There’s a journaling that you do for yourself and hopefully when you are looking, you’re seeing trends, you’re seeing triggers. And then it’s also how are you taking that information and then relaying that over to the health care professionals so that they can do something with it and understand it,” Welson-Rossman says. “I think it’s important to discuss the individual. Each of us has our own individuality of what’s happening to us and we need to be able to express that to the doctor and help the provider.”
5. Gives doctors a reason to believe you
Unfortunately, especially in the Black community, you may run into a doctor not believing you or wanting to provide you with adequate care.
“Not only is this an issue with the BIPOC community but also for women as well. Women and minorities make up an extraordinary amount of people who have chronic conditions. So it’s important to be able to give these groups a way to be seen as credible patients, to be a part of the conversation, to be confident to say look, I’ve got this data here to see what’s happening,” Welson-Rossman notes. “The patient is an important piece of this conversation. We have to build into this conversation of how we can empower this community.”
“Having the data is powerful to a person who may have unconscious bias. For someone to come in and say this is what’s going on with me. I’ve printed out this thing. There’s nothing wishy-washy about it and it’s a shame that it has to happen but it is a tool, especially for people whose doctors might try to brush them off,” Dr. Becker adds.
6. Helps you get better treatment for long COVID
There are a number of people that have experienced lingering COVID symptoms. Unfortunately, because it is a new condition, not much is known about it. Some doctors don’t even believe it exists.
“It’s good to have data. Patients can say here’s what’s happening to me– here’s my graph– and then the doctor will be like oh that is happening,” Dr. Becker shares. “Not that we go around doubting people but some doctors need a little more convincing than others and there’s nothing more than a little hard data to say this is what my experience is.”
Deborah Fields was diagnosed with POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), a side effect of long COVID. After noticing changes in her blood pressure and going through several doctors, she was able to come to a diagnosis by journaling.
“This is a case where journaling was the perfect case study that we have right now. And journaling did not stop after diagnosis, she needed to continue to use it during treatment because they were tweaking the medications, they were tweaking the exercise and she had to keep track,” Welson-Rossman shares. “And that information was really important when she was going back to her healthcare team during this time period and got her to the point where she is in this great state.”
How to start journaling
When you are journaling, it is important to remember to be as organized as possible. Remember to trust your intuition. Even if you consider something to be insignificant, make a note of it. It may not be insignificant to your doctor and may help them pinpoint what is going on with you.
When journaling, consider having answers to these questions that doctors typically ask during a doctor visit, according to Dr. Becker:
- When did it start?
- What makes it worse?
- What does the pain feel like?
“When you have trust in yourself, when you feel confident you’re going to advocate for yourself — at least I hope that’s what the outcome is going to be — and keep going so that you have a better health outcome and I think that’s something that we have to understand with chronic conditions. For so many of us it doesn’t go away,” Welson-Rossman concludes.