Is Gratitude The New Bullet? Journaling for chronic pain treatment

Calm Collective did a virtual submit on How To Cope Mentally During COVID-19. One of the speakers was Jamie Lee who was the cofounder of The Kind Friend.

Her topic specifically was how to use journaling to cope with anxiety.

What are the benefits of journaling?

There are tons of benefits to gratitude journaling – from eating better and exercising more to improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Instead of sharing that, Jamie did better by sharing how her personal journaling helped her overcome her life’s challenges.

Using journaling to fight depression

Jamie shared about how she had depression at 12. She moved to Australia from Taiwan as a child. When she first moved to Australia, she couldn’t speak English. She was bullied at school. At that time, her parents were also going through a divorce.

She was having a difficult time. Her mum then brought her to a therapist who introduced Jamie to journaling. With journaling, she was able to better regulate her emotions.

Using journaling for career goals: promoting positive and growth mindset

At 21 years old, Jamie founded Kids at SWiTCH. It is a education program designed to foster financial literacy and inspire innovation in kids.

She attributed her success to journaling. While she was at university, Jamie was writing down ideas about starting a business. As she committed her thoughts to writing, she was able to set actionable goals and from there built her own business!

The Bullet Journal (BoJo)

“We can’t take credit for a beautiful sunrise. But we can take credit for being there to see it.”

Jamie’s own experiences reminded me of The BoJo. While Jamie didn’t exactly reference her experiences to The Bullet Journal Method, the parallels are clear. The founder, Ryder Carroll, of The BoJo was struggling to control his attention deficit disorder as a child.

He started journaling to keep himself organised with information so he can make good decisions. His method, now affectionately known as the BuJo is being used and shared by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide!

The Kind Friend Journal

In that sense, the benefits of using a journal isn’t exactly new. What then is so special about Jamie’s TKFJ (I made the acronym up)?

Jamie designed TKFJ with the intent of promoting self-care! There’s a huge emphasis on gratitude and self-reflection. The BuJo, on the other hand, is focused on organising your life.

They are remarkably different!

The BuJo works more like a planner while the TKFJ allows you to use it either as a planner or a gratitude journal. While their stories may have been similar, their end products, are not.

Yet at the same time, they are both designed for the same purpose: intentional living (The BuJo) and live a purposeful life (TKFJ). Isn’t it amazing?

gratitude journal, self reflection, wellness singapore

So, this is how their journal looks like.

On the first column, there are two spaces for weekly goals and tasks. Right next to it is a daily mood tracker.

On the next page, you have a habit tracker on the top as well as some spaces for long-form self-reflection. The highlight for me is the “I am grateful for” bit. I cannot emphasised how amazing gratitude journaling is.

They also have pages that are empty for you to scribble your thoughts on or use as a planner if you so wish. I think it’s pretty neat.

How to start a gratitude journal?

If you would like to start gratitude practice without getting their journal (which I highly recommend btw), you can always do it on a regular notebook. You may find the following recommendations useful:

You have to express gratitude. A study compared writing gratitude letters vs. writing about their thoughts feelings about stressful experiences reported better mental health in the gratitude group.

Use less negative-emotion words. Cutting down on the negativity is associated with more improvements while, interestingly, more positive words didn’t make a difference. This is from the same study above.

Aim to keep the journal going for at least either once a week for 6 weeks or twice a week for 4 weeks. There was also some research showing healthcare professionals who journaled for two weeks experienced a 28% reduction in stress!

If you want a once-off thing, try writing a gratitude letter and deliver it in person to some one who has keen kind to you. You may experience “large positive changes for one month“.

As for common practice, it’s encouraged that you don’t rush through it. The general guideline is spend 10 to 15 minutes to write down three things you are thankful for.

Five simple steps to journaling

Remember the empty pages in the journal? They are for your own use.

I really enjoyed that Jamie broke journaling down to five simple elements:

  • Understand why you are journaling.
  • Commit a set time every day to make it into a habit.
  • Start small e.g. three things you are grateful for.
  • Do whatever you want, however you want it. It is YOUR journal.
  • As you get familiar with journaling, look around for fun prompts. You can check out their Instagram page for ideas.

Neuroscience for gratitude practice

I promise I didn’t specifically look for the neuroscience being grateful. However, I came across a paper that I couldn’t  ignore.

Writing a gratitude letter led to changes in brain activity at the medial prefrontal cortex three months later. Admittedly, the changes may be due to the behaviour change rather than the single letter writing activity. Regardless of why that happened, it’s too cool not to share.

These changes are consistent with what we see with experienced mindfulness practitioners.

Journaling for chronic pain?

It’s probably too early to join the dots now but I wouldn’t be surprised if journaling and gratitude practice both have a role to play in chronic pain management. When we look at how gratitude journaling works, it does induce self-reflection and emotional regulation. Both which are important elements of recovery from chronic pain.

While there is no clinical guideline recommending gratitude journaling as a pain management strategy, I do use it with my clients to help promote emotion-regulation. As mentioned in why mindfulness works for chronic pain and the ultimate guide to lower back pain, high value pain management must include addressing psychosocial elements.

Research has shown has time and time again that there is a lot of overlap between mental health and a person’s pain experience!

Gratitude journaling as part of the treatment to manage chronic pain is within the evidence-based framework.

If you are struggling chronic pain and not ready to seek professional treatment, my first suggestion is to look into mindfulness practice. The research behind Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs is fairly robust. I also did include a few (free) recommendations in the blog post to get you started.

The next best option, especially for those who have reservations towards mindfulness training, is start practising gratitude. It’s almost free (just have to buy a notebook and pen) to get started.

If you are looking for professional help, do book in an appointment with me to discover the difference an evidence-based chiropractic treatment can make. I am committed to helping you find freedom from pain in as little as four to seven visits. My goal? To make my own services redundant to you.


Frustrated by the lack of results-driven and ethical chiropractic clinics in Singapore, Chiropractor Jesse Cai found Square One Active Recovery to deliver meaningful and sustainable pain solutions.

Our goal? To make our own services redundant to you.

*We do not offer temporary pain relief such as chiropractic adjustments, dry needling, or any form of soft tissue therapy.