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5 Symptoms Journals for Daily Health Tracking

A guide to health journals for wellness, chronic illness, fatigue and pain management. Includes food diary, habits and mental health journal options.

 

Introduction


It is well established that journaling is an effective tool for self-improvement, as well as time and stress management. If you are living with a chronic condition or illness, like 50% of Australians do, journaling can also be an effective tool to manage symptoms and treatments, gain insights and make lifestyle changes.


This article aims to clarify what to look for in a symptoms journal so that you can choose the best option for your needs.


What is a symptoms journal


A symptoms journal, also known as a symptoms diary, symptoms tracker, health journal or medical health log, is a tool to record your daily health symptoms. Most journals provide space to track additional information such as daily habits, medications, supplements, vitals, exercise and sleep.


A symptoms diary can help identify triggers, find patterns, track the impact and effectiveness of treatments, so that changes can be made to improve quality of life.


Symptom trackers are often used by people:

  • living with a chronic illness or condition, like lupus, diabetes or multiple sclerosis, to better manage symptoms

  • dealing with a specific health issue, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to identify foods that may cause symptoms

  • looking to improve their health and wellbeing.

Symptoms and health trackers come in 3 basic formats:

  • journals/diaries/notebooks

  • PDF templates, documents or spreadsheets (digital or paper), and

  • digital apps.


Benefits of keeping a symptoms journal


There are many benefits of keeping a symptoms journal, especially when your symptoms are multisystemic, or they come and go. One day you may be fine, but the next you may struggle to get out of bed. Lots of things can affect the way you feel, from the weather to the food you eat. A diary can help track your symptoms and find patterns that may explain why they're happening.


Keeping a symptoms journal can help you:

  • Manage your symptoms, illness or health issue

  • Follow medical protocols, treatments and advice

  • Better prepare for health care appointments

  • Remember and reference information

  • Reduce your healthcare costs

  • Track your health goals and progress

  • Express gratitude – an antidote to resentfulness around symptoms

  • Find inspiration, insights or a diagnosis.

While not a cure for a chronic illness or health problem, a symptoms journal can help make life a little easier.

Beyond symptom tracking, journaling also has a range of other benefits, including:

  • Reducing stress and anxiety by helping you unravel your fears, thoughts and feelings regarding your health problems

  • Creating order when life feels chaotic

  • Improving mood and emotional wellbeing

  • Promoting self-reflection and personal growth.


Key features to look for in a symptoms or health journal

It can be difficult to choose the best symptoms journal or health journal for your needs with so many options available. To help you narrow things down, here are some key features and factors to consider.

  1. Plenty of space to track symptoms you’re experiencing – This may seem obvious, but there are journals that do not offer enough space to write down symptoms (hello, the whole point of this!). You may want to track your symptoms with a pre-populated list or body drawing, or you may wish to have carte blanche and record and describe your symptoms with lots of empty space. You may also want space to rate your symptoms by duration (length of time you experienced something and its timing - morning, evening etc.) or by severity levels.

  2. Timeframes – Do you want to track your symptoms for a short-term period (a few weeks or one month), or for a long-term period (3 months or more?). Note: Most symptom journals come undated (you can start and stop as you wish).

  3. Size and portability – Do you want a compact and light journal to fit in your bag, or do you prefer a larger one, for ease of writing? Will you be bringing your journal everywhere you go, or will it stay at home most of the time? Note: Most journals come in A5 size (21cm x 15cm).

  4. Thoroughness and customisation – Are you looking to track just your symptoms or more? What could help you better understand your symptoms, identify triggers, follow protocols, make progress, or focus on an important health goal? Do you need to track something specific, like your blood glucose levels? Do you want space for general notes, brainstorming or other specific needs? Make sure your journal includes what you need or want to track, or space for customisation. Common journal prompts include space to track food and fluid intake, exercise, appointments, sleep, daily activities, and medications.

  5. Focus – Are you focusing on a specific issue, for example, anxiety, or are you on a voyage of discovery, trying to figure out what your ad-hoc symptoms mean? Depending on your needs, you may want to look for a diary that is tailored to your specific condition, illness or health concern.

  6. Ease of use, design and discretion – Are you comfortable walking around with the diary’s cover title? Are you looking for something subtle? Is there enough space to track what’s important to you? Are you happy with the page layout – can you picture yourself filling out the pages on a daily basis over many weeks or months?

  7. Durability and quality of materials – This is especially important if you’ll be carrying your journal everywhere with you. Look out for:

    • Quality paper (to avoid ink bleeding on other pages) and quality binding (to avoid papers falling out from poor stitching, for example)

    • Journals that lay flat when opened so that you can easily write in them.

    • Durable covers – while softer covers may weigh less, they may not last as long and may make writing a bit more difficult on soft surfaces, like a bed.

    • Useful add-ons – elastic closure, ribbon bookmarks and envelope pockets are useful, especially if you want to keep other papers or notes with your journal.

Nice to haves

Some journals come with extras that may be helpful or of interest to you. For example:

  • Prompts for self-reflection and building healthy habits

  • A gratitude practice and inspirational quotes

  • Information and advice about a specific condition or illness

  • Bullet journal pages to better track and graph recurring symptoms

  • Space for lists or records (symptoms, medications, health care practitioners, medical history, treatment records, test results etc.).

Choosing the right symptoms journal or health journal for your needs


With so many journal options available, it can be a bit overwhelming. To help you choose the best symptoms or health journal for your needs, here are 5 options, each created by a person with a chronic illness.


Write to Feel Right: Capture. Clarify. Change.

Write to Feel Right  (Symptoms & Health Journal)

Summary: An all-in-one comprehensive and discreet symptoms and wellness journal to track daily health information as well as focus on 8 key health pillars to gain insights and make progress. Designed for free range journaling (there are many prompts and free space, but no pre-populated lists of symptoms). Ideal if you have a chronic illness or condition, an acute or persistent health issue, or are looking to take your health up a notch.


Key features:

  • 4 months of journaling (each day has 2 pages to fill out)

  • Total of 284 pages

  • Daily page includes prompts to track symptoms, medications/supplements, food/fluids, activities/appointments/treatments, sleep, exercise, menstrual cycle, weather, overall wellbeing (plus energy, pain and stress levels), insights and progress, vitals (blood glucose, body temperature, blood pressure, oxygen and PH levels), bowel movements, weight, footsteps, health focus (8 health pillars), an inspirational quote, a gratitude list, and free space.

  • Monthly reflection prompts and bullet pages for ratings/graphs

  • Logs to track symptoms, medications/supplements and gratitude

  • Advice on how to track symptoms and medications more quickly and efficiently.

Specifics:

  • A5 size

  • Premium 100gsm acid free paper

  • Two ribbon bookmarks, expandable rear pocket, elastic band closure

  • Faux leather hardcover, lays flat

  • Cover colours: Brown, Blue, Salmon

Cost: $39 (AUD) Website: Wellness Woo

 

Holding Space for Myself: A Journal for Chronic Pain & Illness

Holding Space for Myself: A Journal for Chronic Pain & Illness

Summary: A journal tracker created for people living with disability and/or pain by someone who is disabled and living with fibromyalgia. The journal contains many detailed and specific prompts, diagrams and drawings to keep track of symptoms, including pain and energy levels, as well as lifestyle behaviours, such as sleep and diet. Contains pre-populated lists of symptoms. Ideal for short-term symptoms tracking.


Key features:

  • 1 month of journaling (each day has 6 pages to fill out)

  • Total of 192 total pages

  • Daily page includes prompts to track symptoms, medications, sleep, diet, water intake, pain, energy, gratitude, an inspirational quote and free space.

  • Medication log page and plenty of space to express gratitude on a daily basis.

Specifics:

  • A5 size

  • Paper quality: journal-friendly paper

  • Choice of hard or soft cover with handcrafted design

  • Journals are printed on demand, wherever you live

  • Digital PDF version is also available.

Cost: $55 (AUD) Website: The Wandering Moon Co

 

Health tracking journal

Health Tracking Journal - Pretty Sick Designs

Summary: This pain journal is geared towards spoonies living with chronic disease. It comes in a 6-month or one year format. Its daily page includes text and diagram prompts for sleep quality, food, mental health, end of day reflections, as well as spoon theory explanation and spoon log (for energy evaluation). Ideal for high level, longer-term symptoms monitoring.


Key features:

  • 6 months or one year of journaling (each day has one page to fill out)

  • Daily page includes prompts to track symptoms, sleep, activities, food/water, priorities, mental health, gratitude and reflections. You can also indicate if you’ve taken your medications or not that day.

  • Graphs for symptoms and sleep, as well as energy, pain and activity levels

  • Space for appointment notes and health and treatment records

  • Monthly reviews and calendars for planning.

Specifics:

  • A5 size

  • Spiral binding, lays flat

  • Cover colours: Black, Blue

Cost: $55 (CAD) Website: Pretty Sick Designs

 

Begin Within – A daily healing journal

Begin Within - A Daily Healing Journal

Summary: A daily healing and wellness journal to document your nutrition, medications, symptoms, challenges, accomplishments, vitals, gratitude and more. Designed to focus on writing (there are many prompts, but no prepopulated lists of symptoms). Takes a comprehensive approach to mental health and emotional wellbeing. Ideal if you want to focus on self-reflection and personal growth.


Key features:

  • 3 months of journaling (each day has 2 pages to fill out + 1 page for notes)

  • Total of 275 pages

  • Daily page includes space to track symptoms, medications/supplements, sleep, food/fluids, mindset/mood, highlight of the day, moments of success, goals, treatments/therapies/self-care, physical activity, frustrations, pain/energy/stress levels, bowel movements, blood pressure, blood sugar, body temperature, oxygen levels, day of cycle and space for notes.

  • Space for reflections, intentions, learnings and past/future visualisation exercises

  • Includes a body image daily prompt.

Specifics:

  • A5 size, some options lay flat

  • Available in 3 formats: Hardcover, Perfect bound, Spiral bound

  • Cover colours: White, Pink

  • Digital PDF version also available.

Cost: $30-45 (USD) (cost depends on binding) Website: Begin Within Today

 

Health & Symptom Tracker Journal

Health & Symptom Tracker Journal - The Flarey Tales Co.

Summary: This journal contains many text and diagram prompts for food intake, hydration, the weather, sleep, medications, treatments, exercise, mood, as well as space to track pain, fatigue and stress levels. It provides pre-populated fields, including a predetermined symptom tracking list, space to track coffee and alcohol intake, as well as weather icon prompts. Ideal for people living with chronic illness who are committed to long-term symptom tracking.


Key features:

  • 6 months of journaling (each day has 2 pages to fill out)

  • Total of 376 pages

  • Daily page includes tracking for symptoms, sleep, food/water intake, coffee/alcohol intake, things to do, pain areas/types, the weather, the day’s goal, daily mood, as well as activity, energy, pain and stress levels. Some space to track daily supplements, medications and treatments. Includes reflection prompts for the day.

  • Space to track appointments, medical professionals, treatments and medications

  • Monthly pages to graph changes in symptoms, energy and mood

  • Medical condition/diagnosis page and trigger tracking page

Specifics:

  • A5 size

  • Paper quality: 100gsm

  • One division ribbon

  • Hardcover, linen fabric

  • Colours: Pink, Green, White

Cost: $50 (AUD) Website: The Flarey Tales Co


More symptoms journal options


Here are more symptom diary options that may meet your needs:

Do-it-yourself (DIY) symptoms journals

There are many do-it-yourself (DIY) alternatives to designed symptoms journals. If you’re a seasoned symptom journaler, on a budget, or prefer to create your own version, you could use a plain notebook, bullet or lined journal, or a monthly/yearly calendar diary available at any stationary store. This way, you can customise your own version and track exactly what you want, the way you want. If you cannot be bothered to do this, or if you’re just starting out and DIY is a bit too daunting, a designed option, like one of the options listed above, might be the way to go.

There are also many free or fee-based PDF templates that you can print or fill out digitally. You could also track symptoms with a spreadsheet or document and fill it out digitally or print a copy for daily use. And, of course, there are many symptom tracker apps – more on this below.


Paper journals versus digital symptom trackers

Symptoms tracker apps

It would be remiss not to talk about digital symptom trackers. Most smartphones are equipped with default note-taking features that can be used to track symptoms. There are also free or fee-based digital symptom trackers that offer useful features, such as:

  • Data entry that can be done anywhere and anytime

  • Push notifications to ensure measurements, like glucose levels, are not missed

  • Data visualisations and graphs

  • Instant data sharing, backups and remote access

  • Data collection versatility (ability to capture both qualitative and quantitative information).

However, symptom tracker apps also come with disadvantages or issues, namely:

  • Possibility of data breaches or leaks – Is your private health information really protected and secured? Who exactly has access to your data? Could it be shared with third parties? Even with the best intentions, privacy statements, and security measures in place, hackers are a thing and unwanted things happen. You may also feel that the fact that broccoli gave you bad gas last Tuesday is nobody’s business but your own.

  • Digital overload – We live in a 24/7 digital world which can be quite overwhelming, especially if you’re living with a chronic illness. Apps can be distracting, and the additional exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from tracking symptoms digitally might not be the best approach for people who are unwell or who need a digital detox.

  • Data result expectations – Data results from using symptom tracker apps are not necessarily 'better' than results from using a paper version, unless measuring something very specific like glucose levels. There may also be unrealistic or higher expectations with using a digital symptoms tracker. A few data entries here, a few more there, and voilà, with a touch of a button, I'll have everything I want to know about my health woes. Symptom tracker apps have their analytical limits (as do paper versions, of course).

Paper symptoms trackers

Paper is more popular than ever. Stepping back from the distractions and pace of the digital world for just a few moments each day is becoming increasingly vital, especially for people living with chronic illness that might already be spending countless hours online researching health information and solutions. Analogue symptom journals have many upsides - they work anywhere, do not require additional devices (just a pen or pencil, and a watch/clock to track timings), and they never run out of batteries. You do not need to worry about your private medical information being accessed or breached without your consent. However, the major downside is that paper can be misplaced or lost, without a backup. The processing of paper journals and notes can also be challenging; interpreting handwriting (if you’re sharing your journal entries) can lead to mistakes and interpreting data is not instant or necessarily obvious. Another downside to paper diaries or other paper methods is the possibility of lower adherence to journaling (as you are not constantly reminded with push notifications).


Best of both worlds?

You can always digitise your paper journal by scanning it or taking photos of key information or pages. If you don’t have a scanner, you can buy one (along with a printer) or use the scanner at your local library, stationary store or office. Scanning provides a backup should you lose your journal or wish to have some digital record.


You can also take photos to accompany your paper journal, for example, you can keep a food diary on your phone while logging text in your journal.


You can also set reminders or alarms on your phone to fill out your journal, take medications or anything else.


At the end of the day, whatever you choose, either a high-tech, low-tech or no-tech option, you will certainly derive benefits from tracking your symptoms.


Conclusion

Keeping a health journal makes it easier to track your symptoms and share information with your support circle and healthcare professionals. Using a symptom tracker provides a greater level of self-management and control. You can see how your symptoms change over time, perhaps learn to avoid certain triggers, and take your health literally into your own hands. Choosing the best symptom and health journal will depend on your individual needs and preferences. The most important thing is to start journaling and reaping the benefits.


Disclaimer


Please note that it's important to consult with your healthcare provider(s) before starting any self-care plan, including journaling, to ensure it's safe for you to do so and that it can be beneficial for your specific condition or illness. Journaling is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should always seek personalised medical advice for your health or medical condition.


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1 Comment


Guest
Oct 28, 2023

Thank you, this is very helpful. It made me realise I'm going to stick to paper journals to keep track of my symptoms but take photos of my food on my phone.

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