The Caregiver Cup Podcast

Embracing the Journey: The Transformative Power of Gratitude Journaling and Self-Care for Caregivers

March 05, 2024 Cathy VandenHeuvel Episode 203
The Caregiver Cup Podcast
Embracing the Journey: The Transformative Power of Gratitude Journaling and Self-Care for Caregivers
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

When I stumbled upon my late father's journals, a 40-year legacy of his thoughts and experiences, it was like finding a hidden doorway to the past and a spark for my future. His perseverance through the blank pages inspired me, Cathy, to embark on my own journaling journey, which I'm thrilled to share with you. As we explore the emotional rollercoaster of starting and maintaining a journal, I dive into the initial challenges and share candidly about the emotions that arise when life tries to crowd out this introspective practice.

Discover the simple yet profound practice of gratitude journaling in this heartfelt episode, where I reveal how listing daily thanksgivings and celebrating personal victories can significantly shift one's mental landscape towards positivity—even amidst life's toughest challenges, like my husband's cancer battle. It's a discussion that moves beyond the pages of a journal, as I offer practical tips for weaving gratitude into the fabric of everyday life, transforming protective negative thinking into a celebration of the good that surrounds us.

Closing this chapter, I underscore the special significance of journaling for caregivers, a group to which many of us belong, often without realizing the weight we carry. I extend an invitation to you to partake in this reflective practice, to share your own stories and setups, and to discover how this simple act of self-care can bring joy, empathy, and love into clearer focus. It's not just about writing down words—it's about nurturing the caregiver within and enriching our shared experiences on this journey of care. Join me, and let's embark on this path of personal growth and gratitude together.

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Speaker 1:

Well, hello, my friend, and welcome to another episode of the Caregiver Cup podcast. It's Kathy here. Before we get started today, I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for taking the time and listening to this podcast. My mission of this podcast and my vision is always to help caregivers like you. So if that earbud or that earpiece is in your ear while you're walking, or you have this speaker on while you're doing your dishes, or maybe you have it while you're getting ready for your busy day, I wanted to say thank you for going ahead and continuing to support this podcast, and my hope is that this episode and all of the episodes that you listen to provide you with a little bit of inspiration or motivation or hope, or it gives you a tip or a resource or a hack that is going to go ahead and help you in your day, in your caregiving journey, because that's why I created this podcast. So I'm going to start out with just a little bit of a background story into this episode and then I'll go ahead and really get into the nuts and bolts.

Speaker 1:

But when my dad passed away in 2018, my mom was left with some decisions to make, and one of the decisions that she decided to do was going ahead and moving out of her place up in the northern Wisconsin area and back to the city where I was, and so she was left with dad's things and, prior to moving, she had to go ahead and figure out what things she was going to keep and what things she was going to give away Everything from clothes to all of his tools and his gadgets, to his books that he read and much, much more. But one of the things that was turned out to be a gift or gifts that he left us was all of his journals. Well, my dad went ahead every morning and journaled for 40 plus years, and so we had 40 over 40 years of journaling notebooks, and he started in the early 1970s 70s. I remember how precious these journeys journals were. In the evening after, my mom and I spent long days sorting through his stuff Instead of turning on the TV, we both sat down with a journal in our lab and we would read the journals to ourselves, and then we would say, oh wait, I want to share this with you. You have to hear this. And some of the things in the journal brought laughter and we laughed and we giggled or reminisced about the day I mean even my wedding day is out there. My first day that I learned to drive was out there and it brought so much joy. But then there were other days or other entries in the journal that were tear jerkers, that brought tears to our eyes.

Speaker 1:

My dad would journal each morning. I so remember as a child, him sitting at his desk with his pen, and he would. He would either print really, really nice, or he would have this beautiful handwriting that he would write. He would document the day of the week, the date. He would even put in the weather information before it was actually on the computer or on the phone. He would go to the newspaper and he would clip off the, the high and the low for the day, and what if it was cloudy or sunny? And he would tape it into the journal. Some of the entries that we would read were very simple and others were very lengthy.

Speaker 1:

Well, after doing this with my mom, I was encouraged to do my own journaling. So what did I do? I went out and bought this beautiful hardcover journal it was floral with a pen, and I was so committed to following in my dad's footsteps. I wrote down the day of the week, the date, I even went on my phone and put in the high and the low for the weather, and then each day I would recount what the day was like and would write about it. It worked for me for a few weeks but I felt off. I struggled with the words what words to put down? What would my and I would ask myself, what would my kids think when they read this, when I pass away? And then I would struggle with is this really important? What is what is this doing for me? And then I really got thinking and my husband and I had so much deep discussion yesterday about it and I asked why did dad continue to do this daily for 40 years? What was the trick or what was the reasoning why? There would be days for me when I started and looked at this blank page, not knowing what to write, and then there were other days that I would sit there and I felt like it was a chore to do, a chore that was kind of like checking off your to-do list.

Speaker 1:

I envy the people that can just pull out a journal and just write out their thoughts and their ideas for an hour each morning. I'm thinking an hour each morning, but the thought of writing everything down and taking that much time wasn't appealing to me In my head. This is Kathy here in my head. I was thinking I could be finding better things to do with my time. Is this really a good use of my time? So here are my three struggles that I have, and I'm thinking maybe you might be able to relate to me maybe one or two of these.

Speaker 1:

My personal struggles for journaling were finding the time and fitting it into my daily routine and committing to it. And then my second struggle was why? Why is this important and what am I getting out of this? I still can't. I wish my dad was alive to this day so I could ask him that. And my third one was staring at this blank page and not knowing what to write, or I felt like I was writing the same thing every day. I just couldn't do it. Here I bought this beautiful book in this pen and I was so excited and motivated from looking at my dad's journals and then, all of a sudden, I couldn't do it. I was skipping days and then I felt guilty and shame for not following through. I thought I so wished my dad was alive to ask him why is he journaling and why did he journal and what were the benefits he got out of it? His why must have been extremely strong if he did this for over 40 plus years. I knew I wasn't going to give up on this quite yet, though, and I decided I needed to do some research and digging Kathy for me. If you don't know me well enough yet which I'm hoping you are starting to I'm pretty much a research girl and I like to know all of the geeky stuff, so I listened to podcasts, I watched videos, I read blogs on journaling, and then discovered this really cool neuroscience behind journaling. That just totally fascinates me. I started understanding why I was juggling and what options I had when it came to this, and it really gave me a reason to journal, because it's more than just writing your thoughts down. But before I share these, I want to just kind of share why I struggled, or why I justified why I struggled.

Speaker 1:

My upbringing was very blue-collared, disciplined and practical. My dad worked for an auto dealership in the parts and shippings department, my mom did her own house cleaning business, and so it was definitely very blue-collared Also when I took my personality and strengths assessments when I was in corporate America for my 30 plus years. I always found patterns of. I liked simple and to the point things. I was very detailed and task-orientated. I also in the strengths finder assessment I came up as a high achiever and I valued consistency, focus and discipline. Can you tell that? My dad was in the military?

Speaker 1:

So when things were challenging or things are challenging or stressful, I resort to structure, routine and tasks. Therefore, when given a blank page to journal, especially when your season is chaotic or you're all stressed out, just writing things out without any lines or any prompts is hard for me. Yes, my therapist helped me with this and I'm still working on this. I'm still trying to open up and allow the creativeness to come out and I think podcasting and all of the business stuff is helping me. But I still resort to structure when things are stressful or chaotic or I need accomplishment. So when I discovered, what I discovered is I needed a journal that had structure. Meaning fill in the blanks or tell me what to write about is much easier for me and will keep me committed and coming back for more. So my very first structured journal was from Rachel Hollis's group called the Start Today Journal, where she had in the journal five things that you're grateful for that you documented on each page and writing down your 10 goals as if they already happened. And it helps me because I could stay focused. Especially when I was stressed in a hurry. I still could go ahead and do these. It gave me quick directions and I was able to write.

Speaker 1:

I learned the concept of gratitude journaling and why it helps, especially after a few weeks of journaling in Rachel's five things you're grateful for. When you record things you're grateful for, you start recognizing and looking for things. But here's some of the things that I wrote down this morning in my gratitude journal, when I was walking with the dogs this morning and my husband obviously I'm grateful for that, but I like to dig deeper than that and we saw these robins chasing after each other because the it you can smell the spring is in the air. And then I got home and I do like a little bit of cleaning routine in my morning, and so I was washing the storm door and there was this beautiful red cardinal sitting in our bird feeder. It was just beautiful. So I wrote that down. And and then during the week, even when I'm walking, one of my journal entries said that there was the I have. There's buses that drive all around and there's a bus driving lady that always waves at me each morning. I write that down. Yesterday we went for some errands and I had the car that we took the dogs in the car and they were so excited to be driving in the car, so I would write those things down.

Speaker 1:

So when, when I go ahead and when I go ahead and reflect this morning, I would go ahead and think back. What are some things that really made me feel grateful? When you focus on gratitude, it trains your brain to look for more. It trains your brain Now. I could say something like this and you probably can't hear it on the podcast my husband has his table, saw outside of my door and what is your brain want to do right away? It's like, oh, my God, he. I told him I was going to go ahead and record my podcast, but he's running his power, saw out there. So my brain could go ahead and say, oh, but on the flip side, I'm like, no, he's going to create something. So it trains your brain to go ahead and be grateful for things around you. It forms what I, what science, calls the neuroplasticity, and neuroplasticity refers to the lifelong capacity of the brain to change and rewire itself in response to the stimulation of learning and experience. Meaning, when you start looking for things to be grateful for so that you can write them in your book, you're teaching your brain to look for those things and then, when you write them down, it reinforces it. It reinforces the positivity. But neuroplasticity doesn't happen overnight. It means you can change your brain to focus more on gratitude, but it's going to take time and you're going to have to go ahead and continually remind your brain that I'm, I'm looking for these things, I want these things, and all of a sudden, your brain is going to start saying there's another moment of of joy or there's another moment of gratitude, or it's going to start looking for joy. And I noticed that after about two weeks of writing in there.

Speaker 1:

We know, as caregivers, most of us unconsciously use negativity as a defense mechanism. It protects us from not working out or not working out or bad news or becoming overcome. And what I mean is it protects us so that we don't get hurt. It protects us so that we don't go ahead and get our hopes up. We don't go ahead and get our hopes up too high. It protects us from, you know, really anything. Our minds use negative thoughts. So we're not blindsided, so we're prepared, we're not let down. My mind would think it needs to protect myself from Dennis's lab results or his PET scan results. So, instead of waiting and accepting the news, my brain is saying, kathy, just be prepared that the cancer is here, and so that you know how to react, so that you know how to go ahead and handle the situation, so that you don't go ahead and break down and cry and lose it, whatever it would be, your brain protects it.

Speaker 1:

It's kind of like you're a mom and I have that the toddler, little Curtis, is the two year old little grandson I have. Well, we're outside. I'm always thinking he's going to run into the road, and so my mind is always protecting him, and so there's good things that your brain is going to protect, but you can't obsess over the fact that he can't run down the sidewalk. You got to let him run down the sidewalk. He's going to go ahead and continue to learn that he can't go on the road. So you have to go ahead and give him a little bit of a cushion to play versus not letting him go out in my front yard because he could run onto the road. So that's kind of my layman's example.

Speaker 1:

But when we continue to focus on negativity, for example, and allow and always feed our minds the negative thoughts, it'll become our natural thoughts. I mean I could have did this for the last seven years with Dennis with his cancer, but I choose to go ahead and look at optimism and look at how much the drugs and the oncology team and the stem cell transplant plant has given him extra months and years of his life. We don't see when we're in this negative mindset, we don't see good parts, we don't see the small good news or hear the kind words and feel the love, and so when we open up to that, we can hear those things. So the simple practice can start the shift to a much more balanced mindset. And being able to do that I almost think of and I don't even think this is science, but I almost think of our brain as one side positive, one side negative and when we go ahead and let the negativity in, it smushes the positive side. So what we want to do is our goal is always to go ahead and keep pushing on that negative side and allowing more positivity in.

Speaker 1:

When I started this, I focused on committing to this for for a couple weeks and this was after I bought the book and after I didn't succeed. But when I found the structure to fill in the blank stuff, then I committed to the the full two weeks. I did this right after my morning walk and found a time that worked best for me. So you'll want to do that, and I did this while I was drinking my spinach smoothie. So it was something I had to drink anyway, and so why not sit down and go ahead and do that? After about a week I caught myself saying this, like when I was walking or when I was driving or when I was doing something during the day. I would say this is something for my journal tomorrow. Oh my gosh, I hope I remember this. Like I said, away from the bus driver while we're walking, or someone let me in while we were in traffic, the extra check in from the dentist's nurse navigator, and or the hug from my grandbaby, whatever it would be. Right now the sun just came out, you know. So it's just these little things.

Speaker 1:

As a few months went on, I started adding some things to my journal. I started adding. As a matter of fact, I don't get the structured journal anymore because I have a routine and I know what to write. So don't think you have to find a structured journal. You can follow my tips and by the end I'll tell you exactly what your journal can look like, or you can kind of think through. So after I journaled my five graduates, I started adding something else and I started adding three to five wins in my journal practices.

Speaker 1:

My business coach I was I I meet with a business coach she suggested that I stop being so hard on myself. I kept telling her I just can't get everything done and I feel like I'm letting everyone down, including myself. She gave me an assignment each day after I journaled my five things that I was grateful for. She wanted to wanted me to journal five or three to five things that I accomplished the day before, and they should be pretty amazing things. But anything is is important and I added these to my journal and my word is voila. Think about all that you get done in in each day, all the things that you do.

Speaker 1:

Now, recording your three to five things each day can look as simple as and, I know, like when I was in hospice care with my mom and my dad. It could be a shower that day. It could be walking down to the mailbox. It could be saying I drank my my eight glasses of water that day, or it could be it could be as hard as having a hard conversation with your loved one because you're there, you're frustrated and you just need to clear the air. And you did it in a very compassionate and positive way. I just had to grab some some water here when I started noticing.

Speaker 1:

What I started noticing was my wording when I was doing my gratitude journaling and now my wins were changing. They were changing and I wasn't just putting them down. I when, when I was doing my wins, I was rewording things now by saying I am proud of myself because I took a few deep breaths and processed my mom's negative comment before I responded. I was, you know, and I and I also said I am very proud of my patients because I was persistent in getting an appeal on the insurance claim denial. Or I am so damn proud of myself because I walked an extra block this morning because the weather was perfect and the sunshine was great, whatever it would be. I noticed I started complimenting myself, I noticed I started changing my wording and I noticed my mindset shifting. I was embracing small things and I noticed moments of joy and I wasn't so frustrated and negative all the time, and so I think there's something in this combination of gratitude and wins and when you document these together.

Speaker 1:

Now, daily journaling doesn't have to be complex or hard. Like I said, it can be extremely simple and, as a matter of fact, I say five minutes. Some days I sit 10 minutes. But forming a habit takes time and I believe daily journaling should be a check-in with yourself versus another task to do, but it doesn't have to take tons of time because you, as a caregiver, don't have it. So, like I said, five minutes. Now, there are some days, like I said, that I do take an extra dose of time, and that's the days that I feel like I have more to talk about or journal about. But I want to talk about the power of a pause like this, especially in the morning or, if you do it at lunch, being quiet with a pen can help us, you and I address our feelings and our thoughts. When we start looking at the gratitude, you realize that you wasted so much time in your negative thoughts or missed out in the good pieces of that day or the day you had. It forces you to push and be honest with yourself as well. I still wish I could ask my dad I do why he started and how this practice benefit him for over 40 plus years. But I can tell you it's over six years now for me, for me now, and I know this practice each day keeps me grounded, because if I skip days, I know because my brain starts switching back to negative thoughts, and so it's almost like I got to have that daily dose of my vitamin gratitude.

Speaker 1:

So when you're looking in my journal, in my habit each day, here's what I do. I don't do like the 10 goals anymore. I only do those in my business once per quarter. So I don't do these. I keep it basic and, as a matter of fact, I don't have a structured journal anymore because I know what I want. So it can be a spiral notebook from Walmart or Target. It can be something as simple as that, or you can go out and buy this fancy journal.

Speaker 1:

What I do is my practice is I write the day and the date on the top because I love my dad so much and it makes me smile. I write on the top the current temperature and the high and the low. I do just kind of as a fun thing and I might write rainy or sunny or whatever. And then I go one, two, three, four, five and at the top I put I'm grateful for and I start writing down the five things that I'm grateful for. Why five, you may ask? Because it's easy to grab one or two, but five forces you to think deeper and five for me helped me really identify the five things. And then underneath that I put my three to five wins and you really celebrate. You could put on there celebrating my wins today are, or I'm proud of the things that I have accomplished, and then put it whatever you want it to be, and then put at least three. It could be five. And then after that I allow myself on that page If I want, I can write more if I want to, but if I don't want to I don't do it. It just depends on my day, it depends on the situation. Now, on Thursday mornings I write down my bowling scores from the night before, just so I can go back and look.

Speaker 1:

One thing that I added in 2023 is a fun little thing In addition to training my brain. Now I also go ahead and do just a fun little thing. Underneath that, I write out how I feel, and it could be a little smiley face, it could be a cloud. I could be a picture if I wanted to draw something, or it could be just a few words, just so I can track what's going on with myself and then I put why. But in addition to training your brain this journaling thing I feel I'm able now to manifest more gratitude and wins. Like I said, now you're going through your day now and you tend to look at more positivity than negativity. I also can visualize more joy and empathy and love now than I did before. There's just something magic in training your brain and continuing to look at it. It's kind of like when you go out unless you bought yourself a new white SUV, right, and you love it and you, it just rides nice and it's shiny and it smells good inside. Well, now, when you drive down the road, you see more and more white SUVs and they're like I didn't see those a week ago. Now, the sudden, I see everybody has a white SUV. It's because you are paying attention to it. Okay, going back to journaling, it only takes five minutes.

Speaker 1:

Some days I feel like writing more, but when I, when I do and I write that extra in those days and it could be a recount of what happened for the day. It could be feeling like I'm happy or sad, or I'm struggling or what or or. I remember this date, I gain more clarity on who I am. I release my thoughts and my worries. I could uncover my purpose. You could notice trends if on the on those days, maybe you only write when you're struggling and you notice now that you're writing, that you can organize your inner thoughts, you can celebrate and measure your growth in there as well. And because maybe you're working on, maybe you're writing your own book and you're tracking how you're doing.

Speaker 1:

When we are caregiving, we think we think of ourselves as the very last person, because we think of everybody else first. So finding this practice and this five minute practice is simple, but it's a very it's a very strong way to put yourself first and exercise your mind and your overall self well being. It is self care. You don't have to have this big, big, humongous routine. It's all. It also can be a daily check in like how are you doing today? That's my latest one.

Speaker 1:

Like I said, in 2003, I started this. It could be a five star rating that you give yourself each day. Underneath that you draw your stars. It could be, I know, in podcast episodes I was trying out different things. I was using a color coding system. You know, like red is like alert yellow, I'm in yield. You know, green it's a go day, blue it's a down day. You know you could do that as well and it's just a way to go back and track what's going on, or you're able to see where you're, you're well, how you're doing when you check in with yourself. And, like I said, I've been doing this for for like a little over a year now. It allows me to grant myself grace on the hard days and accept them. This is a blue day for me. This is a two star day for me. It also gives me time to ask myself why is this day so hard? Why is this a great day? And I put five stars down. What did I eat the night before? What did I do the day before? What, what, what's happening today? This practice is more than just journaling for you, it's about committing to yourself five minutes to check in with yourself. Give yourself some self care, which it seems hard right now. It also is about what this five minutes will reveal about yourself moving forward.

Speaker 1:

To end this podcast episode, I want to go ahead and read this article from Daily Caring. I read a lot of caregiving articles and this one was on gratitude and she says in this article gratitude is proven to reduce stress. Gratitude is a great stress reduction technique for caregiver. It is simple but truly an effective way to combat stress. It's free, it's quick and can be done anytime, anywhere. Sidebar, I would carry my journal to the doctor's offices in the morning if I didn't get a chance to journal.

Speaker 1:

Studies show that practicing gratitude can make you happy, lower stress, protect you from depression, helps you sleep better, boosts your immune system and improves your relationships. But it's important to know that being grateful doesn't mean ignoring your negative feelings. We explain what gratitude really means by sharing two positive effects of gratitude that reduce stress and suggest an easy way to ask a little gratitude in your day. Gratitude isn't boring and it is an ignoring bad feelings. Nobody, let me back up. It didn't say boring, I was reading it wrong.

Speaker 1:

Gratitude isn't about ignoring bad things. Gratitude is suggesting that caregivers should suck it up and be thankful, no matter how bad things are. I know that Gratitude is about noticing that there are always some positive things in your life, no matter how dark things are. Gratitude is about being aware of that. Of that helps you get a different perspective. It also helps you to see that things are not 100% terrible all the time. During tough times it can be comforting to know that.

Speaker 1:

So here's the two positive effects of gratitude for caregivers that she was talking about in this paragraph prior. Number one it helps you become more optimistic. Getting into this habit of noticing being thankful for good things, maybe small or big, improves your overall attitude. Like I said, it trains your brain to become naturally more optimistic. Number two it helps you focus on what you do and what you do have. Instead of getting sucked up in a negative spiral about what you don't have or what things are going bad, use gratitude to pay attention to what is going well or what you do have. Make a conscious effort to focus on the people, situations and things that make life better. So that's a good article and I will have that link in the show notes so that, if you wanted to read the whole article you can.

Speaker 1:

Before we wrap up today, I want to leave you with a gentle reminder. My friend Caregiving is filled with both challenges and moments of immense love. As you embark on the practice of journaling gratitude which I hope you take me up on it remember that it's not just about recording moments, but about embracing your mindset shift. Just going ahead and going through the motions until it clicks is what I want you to do. Take a moment each day to acknowledge the strength within you, the resilience you display and the love you share with your loved one. Your journey matters, and so do you as you put pen to paper and there's so much science about thinking it and writing it down and how much more you retain and train your brain. And so, as you put that pen and paper and open that journal, let it be a sacred place for your thoughts, reflections and the celebrations of small victories.

Speaker 1:

If you ever find yourself facing the weight of the day, return to your journal. It doesn't have to be a one time thing. You could go ahead and record something later in the day, or you're just struggling. Maybe I talk a lot about this when you're feeling an immense emotion. Maybe it's time for you just to sit with it, get it all out and then ask yourself why. Let it be a source of comfort, a reminder of your journey and a testament to your enduring spirit. You are not alone on this path and your stories both the challenging, the triumphant times anything are worth preserving in a journal.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for joining me today and I really hope this journaling exercise and explanation will help you remember. Your caregiving role is a significant one and your well-being matters, and this is one way that you can help your well-being. Until next time, my friend, take care and find moments of joy in your journey. If you want to do an extra bonus assignment today, send me a picture of you journaling. Send me a picture of your journal. Tell me what you do. Do you do a digital journal? Do you do a handwritten journal? How do you journal your thoughts? I would love to hear from you. You can find me out on Instagram at Kathy Lynn Vann. I'll talk to you soon and talk to you next week.

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The Power of Gratitude Journaling
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