Coping With Emotions

Coping With Cancer Through Journaling

Expressing your feelings in a journal when you're coping with cancer can be a healthy way to help process your emotions.

A cancer diagnosis can unleash a flood of emotions that are often unpredictable, confusing and challenging to process. Whether you choose to join community or online support groups, lean on your loved ones or seek help from a therapist, finding healthy ways to deal with your feelings is an important step on your cancer journey. Journaling is a low-tech, low-cost tool that can help provide comfort if you’re coping with cancer.

Why Journaling Helps

Putting pen to paper can ease tension and stress, lifting your mood as you deal with cancer and treatment. The American Psychological Association reports that journaling can help people heal from emotional and physical trauma.

Tips for Journaling

Journaling is a private project; there is no right or wrong way to keep a journal. You should do what works for you.

If writing artistically in your journal makes you feel good, that’s wonderful. But some people can become preoccupied by perfectionism. Journaling should not be stressful — keep the process simple and easy.

Your journal is where you think on paper, and thinking is often messy. You don’t need an expensive journal or art supplies to process your thoughts and emotions effectively. A pen and a notebook are all you really need. But of course, you can use supplies like markers and stickers if they make journaling more engaging for you.

Find a quiet place to write where you feel comfortable and will not be interrupted. To develop the habit, it may be helpful to put aside a few minutes at the same time every day to journal. Experiment to figure out what time of day is best for you. Does it help to clear your mind and set a positive tone for the day to journal in the morning? Or does the period of quiet reflection before bed help you find peace at the end of the day? Do whatever works for you and don’t worry if you miss a day or need to switch it up over time; journaling shouldn’t feel like a burden.

Journal Prompts

The following list of prompts can get you started. Consider the ways journaling could help reveal and capture how you are evolving as a person.

  • Keep a running list in your journal of little things that make you feel good. This list might include showering, reading a book, warming your bathrobe in the dryer before slipping into it or going for a walk. How can you enjoy more of these feel-good things in your daily life?
  • What really excites you? What topics or questions inspire your curiosity? What topics get you talking nonstop because you love them so much?
  • There are so many different ways people want to feel. Some are more drawn to excitement and adventure, while others long for comfort or a sense of belonging. Some people want to feel needed, and some want to feel strong. How do you want to feel?
  • Once you’ve established a few emotions you want to feel, start listing things you can do to experience those feelings. Think of some big fantasy ideas, as well as some little ideas that can be realized easily. Break big projects into steps. Now, which one are you going to do first? Give yourself a deadline to complete one of these items.
  • Write a letter to your body, describing how amazing it is and how it’s been your constant companion your entire life. Describe your ups and downs together, and forgive it for not being perfect — forgive yourself for sometimes being angry with your body. Do something kind for your body like getting a massage, taking a walk or even just drinking a tall glass of water.

These prompts are just some initial ideas to get you going. You can write about anything you want, but you may find that taking time to reflect on your emotions will provide you with the greatest benefit as you’re coping with cancer.

Living with cancer can feel overwhelming. Remember that you are not alone. UVA Cancer Center offers services and resources to help support you on your journey.

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Judy Schwartz Haley
Judy Schwartz Haley