Journaling puts things into perspective
July 23, 2013
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- When Capt. Scott Ross, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, felt alone during this deployment to Iraq in 2009, he turned to an unlikely companion -- a brown, leather-bound journal.
For the next seven months he wrote daily. His thoughts, feelings, frustrations and day-to-day tasks were all transcribed on the pages inside.
"I know there is a stigma of that My Little Pony 'dear diary,'" said Ross, raising the pitch of his voice at the end to prove his point. "But it's not like that for me."
Ross held up his journal, raised his eyebrows and added, "This is my big manly book of stuff."
For Ross, war journaling was part documentation, part therapeutic.
"It was a way for me to process the series of events and deal with them simultaneously."
Journaling is on the rise as part of holistic health and overall wellness, according to Behavioral Health Social Worker Danielle Maaks. It is often prescribed to aid in treating a plethora of conditions, including many that plague military families such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Maaks believes by addressing issues in a journal, one can step back from the perils of everyday life and reflect on life as a whole. She admitted that the idea of journaling to many was overwhelming, posing the question "Where do I begin?" But the beauty of journaling is it can become whatever the person writing needs at that moment.
"Journaling can give someone a voice they might not otherwise have," said Maaks. "And there is no right or wrong way to do it."
The easiest way to start, she said, is to simply write a stream of consciousness. Journals can also be used to catalog events or moods, to ask questions and to release anger and anxiety.
"People with depression tend to remember negative things much quicker than they remember positive things," said Maaks. "So writing down three positive things per day can jump-start a positive outlook and retrain someone to look for those positives. It can help someone realize that maybe it's not all bad."
Additionally, Maaks believes journaling downrange has many benefits for Soldiers. When living in a constant state of stress, journaling can aid in relieving anxiety.
"If Soldiers don't feel comfortable talking to other people or if the experiences are too fresh to want to process verbally -- they can get it out of their head and get it down on paper."
Maaks continued: "Our memory can be faulty. Sometimes we remember situations worse than they actually are. If a Soldier is still struggling with an event six months later, they can use this journal to remember it as it was and process the things they are still dealing with. Deployment can be kind of a blur; a journal can give you a frame of reference."
And while journaling downrange can be beneficial for Soldiers, Maaks said spouses back home could use it, as well.
"Spouses like to shield their Soldiers from any negative things that are going on back home, but they still need to get that out," said Maaks. "Sometimes it helps to say this is what I experienced when they were gone."
Maaks explained the key to journaling is doing it every day, and that changing the way we think is like a diet. If you diet for one hour a week, you're not going to lose any weight. If you diet a little bit every day, however, you'll see some changes over time.
"Changing the way we see the world is a slow process," said Maaks. "We can slowly move it into the direction we feel is more healthy for us."
Although much time has passed since he returned home from deployment, Ross continues to journal. He admits he doesn't do it nearly as often. Even still, journaling helps him maintain balance.
"I'm 40 years old. I am who I am. I'm not changing at this point," said Ross. "By journaling, I can see that I'm staying true to who I am."