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Credit: Catherine Liang

Before the soles of my sneakers were shredded like chicken strips due to overuse, I would go on runs when I felt like the stress inside my body was bubbling too loudly to be comfortable. I would attempt to meditate in the mornings when I woke up, slowing my breathing and counting my heartbeats. I tried simply listening to music and cleaning my apartment, cooking dinner, or baking cookies; I tried a myriad of ways to alleviate some of the pressure that being a full-time student entails. However, the one method that never failed me was not among the ones listed above. It was keeping a diary.

Maybe the sentence “keeping a diary” brings you back to elementary school, where you would write down your crush's name in every font you were capable of scrawling and tuck your diary back under your pillow, lest your mom or a friend find it and read the scribble. While I was guilty of this kind of diary-writing too, the diary entries I’m advocating for are more substantial. (I mean, if you want to write your crush’s name over and over and call it a night, more power to you, I guess.)

The tension that builds in your body throughout the day can sometimes seem unbearable — each upcoming test a hammer on the top of your head, sinking you that much lower into the ground, which is littered with assignments, responsibilities, and even social obligations. Some people find cathartic release in exercise and the like, but another way to expel the tension housed in your head is by writing down your thoughts and letting them live in a space not within yourself. 

If you’ve had a crappy day, your diary is the absolute best place to chicken-scratch angry letters of disdain and detestation, because it’s never going to complain. It’s never going to talk back or disagree with you. 

Unlike the performative diary that is an Instagram post or a Snapchat story, where comparing your uploads to other people’s is a natural and expected action, a journal is for your eyes only. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Instagram post, but when it comes to coping with both the good and the bad aspects of my life, my diary is a better keeper for both. Instagram can harvest some of your favorite moments, but it also disseminates the seeds of other people’s best and happiest times. It doesn’t contain the moments where you feel like you need to cry or scream or just breathe for a little while. 

If you’re dealing with something extreme in the sense of anxiety or depression, keeping a diary can help catalogue your feelings and emotions in a more coherent way, expelling some of the pressure that accompanies the isolation of mental illness. It’s something easy to control, when you feel out of control.

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Friends can help you navigate the emotional rollercoaster that is simply getting through a day. But, at least for me, I know I don’t always want to dump my emotions onto their plates, full already with their personal issues and obstacles. A diary can be a dumping ground for all this toxic waste. It feels inexplicably good to be able to say whatever you want, to curse as much as your sailor’s heart desires, to complain about your teachers, your friends, your mom, yourself even, knowing that it will never even have the opportunity to escape and get back to these people. Unlike a post that can be shared and seen by hundreds, your words are powerfully your own. 

All you have to do is start. Buy a journal that looks to you a good representation of yourself — be that a bejeweled and sparkly cover, a simple composition book, or a Google Drive document — and just start one day. The entries don’t have to be long, and they don’t even have to be coherent. I promise you’ll start to see some benefits even beyond feeling a little less stressed. Studies have suggested that keeping a journal can reap all kinds of benefits, from strengthening your emotional intelligence to fortifying your memory and recall ability.  

Once you get into the habit of plopping down on your bed with your diary in hand instead of your phone, you’ll feel like the day isn’t over until you’ve at least written something down. Unlike other forms of writing, keeping a diary isn’t an obligation, and there’s no punishment for not doing an entry for the day. How many times a day to you get to do something that’s entirely for your own benefit with no risk of personal detriment? Probably never. So why not allow yourself this little slice of something servicing?

SOPHIA DUROSE is a College sophomore from Orlando, Fla. studying English. Her email is sdurose@sas.upenn.edu.

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