Writing has long been known for its therapeutic qualities. Although the actual method of writing might change over time – from quill and parchment to ink and paper, and finally keyboard and monitor – it’s the act of writing that is beneficial and not the instruments used in the process.
Caregiving, of course, is a job that can place inordinate stress on a caregiver – physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually for some. In other words, caregiving naturally lends itself to anything of therapeutic value, writing being towards the top of the list. However, although the benefits writing can bring to a person are relatively well known, it’s still an undervalued and underused tool that should be integrated into every caregiver’s daily routine.
The Cathartic Benefits of Writing
Although writing as therapy can take many forms, one doesn’t have to search far and wide to find a format that can be helpful for both immediate purposes as well as long-term well-being. A caregiver, including family caregivers, can integrate these into their routines and start realising immediate benefits.
From grade school kids to retirees, dropouts to valedictorians, journaling is the great equaliser that doesn’t require more than a few minutes of free time, a pencil, and a sheet of paper. Despite its simplicity, however, the act of journaling can be extremely powerful for caregivers as they look for ways to process the psychological and emotional tolls the job can often take.
Journaling is a straightforward exercise to help manage those tolls. It empowers the caretaker by providing them with the ability to sit down in a quiet place and ruminate about the day’s events, essentially putting a halt to the often dizzying speeds of thoughts and feelings swirling within a caregiver. It allows the writer to take a step back from the turbulence and process emotion – including anguish, grief, frustration and even contentment – from a more stable and centred perspective that a busy caregiver’s day rarely affords.
Expressive writing is a more focused exercise than journaling. Although it relies on a similar structure – setting aside 15 to 20 minutes every day to write, preferably in a quiet place – it conceptually strives for a more concentrated impact.
Rather than writing about the day’s events, expressive writing focuses on a recent traumatic experience that could have occurred at any point within the last few months. The key to the exercise is understanding the definition of a traumatic experience. While the term is often associated with something that demonstrably alters a person’s life, usually negatively, trauma for expressive writing can be anything that has had an adverse impact on someone’s state of mind.
For a caregiver, this could include a variety of events, including losing a patient, sudden financial pressure when caring for a family member, a worrisome diagnosis or a host of other sources of stress. However, the traumatic event doesn’t necessarily have to be associated with the job for it to provide benefit.
By routinely journaling about these traumas, a caregiver is soon able to disassociate the emotion that usually clouds their thoughts about the events and see them from a more pragmatic or even quantitative perspective, at least while writing about them. This can be extremely beneficial for witnessing the trauma from a different angle, almost matter-of-factly rather than from a highly personal and emotionally charged point of view.
Like many things in life, repeating this exercise eventually makes it much easier and, therefore, more beneficial as separation of emotion from the event can significantly facilitate healthier processing. For caregivers, who are more susceptible to heartache, depression and exhaustion simply due to the nature of the job, expressive writing can help maintain a healthy and productive mindset to better take on the constant rigours of the position.
Writing During Loss
Whether you choose a more general approach to writing like simple journaling or something more focused like expressive writing, caregivers stand to greatly benefit from the process itself, no matter the chosen path. Particularly in times of loss, the caregiving profession can be emotionally trying to the point where such emotions can begin to impede their work.
Journaling can help alleviate the emotional roadblocks that can obstruct the grieving process when you have lost a patient, specifically by helping you work through those intense feelings of loss. By focusing on events rather than emotion while writing, that new perspective it can provide – if only during the actual act of writing itself at first – will eventually make you much more capable of processing grief in a healthier and more efficient manner.
This concept is even more critical when caring for a parent, relative or friend. In these situations, the loss isn’t about losing a patient, but a loved one, making the grief even more intense and personal. Writing through the process can help you compartmentalise your thoughts, separating them from the often overwhelming raw emotions to provide an outlook and mindset that would otherwise be extremely difficult to obtain.
The Bigger Picture
Committing feelings to paper can be a useful, cathartic exercise for every caregiver that feels the psychological and emotional impact of their responsibilities. The real power of writing isn’t merely in its ability to help alleviate the stress and grief often associated with caregiving, however, but also with its power to make you a better caregiver in the first place.
By helping you organise your thoughts, gain a perspective less clouded by emotion and stay focused on goals and the bigger picture, writing can significantly enhance your caregiving skills with newfound clarity and a healthier mindset.