Dear Diary...

Keeping a journal has made me a happier and more confident person. And it can do the same for you!

- Francesca Mansky, Choices intern, college freshman, and journal fanatic

When I was 15, I thought I was terrible at lots of things (hello math, French, and anything athletic), and just OK at a few things. I liked drawing, but I wasn’t the best in my art class. I liked writing, but it was hard to motivate myself to write outside of school. I wanted to figure out who I was, what I liked, and what I was good at. That winter, I took a cheap notebook from my room and collaged the cover until it was unrecognizable. For the rest of the year, I wrote in it once a week. My entries included poetry, sketches, collages, photo booth pictures, and other mementos. When I filled that journal, I started another one, and then another.

Now I go through a journal every three months. When I look through the hundreds of pages of my diaries, I’m reminded of dreams, disappointments, friendships made and lost, and embarrassing moments I thought I’d never forget (but did!).

Journaling is more than just a great way to remember life’s highs (and cringeworthy lows), though. Studies have shown that people who keep journals sleep better, feel better, and may even get sick less often. Writing about things you feel sad or worried about helps your brain process those emotions and move on. According to psychotherapist Maud Purcell, keeping a journal helps us “remove mental blocks and allows us to use more of our brainpower to better understand ourselves and the world around us.”

Write For Your Life

People journal for all sorts of reasons: to get through stressful times, to document their lives, or to create a space for creativity away from the constant call of their digital devices. Personally, I journal to learn about myself and my relationships. For example, when I have drama in my friend group or am fighting with my dad, I’ll try writing from the other person’s point of view to understand where they’re coming from—and it works! I wind up with new empathy for the other person’s experience.

Journaling has also helped me be more empathetic toward myself. If I have an urge to compare myself with my friends or classmates, I use my journal to talk back to that mean little voice in my head saying I don’t measure up. I’ll write something like, “Yeah, I might not have clear skin, but I like my eyebrows.” Or “I might not be great at math, but I can always make my friends laugh!”

I’m not the only one who uses a journal to stay positive. Graphic novelist Raina Telgemeier, who wrote the bestsellers Smile and Guts, has said that as an anxious kid and teenager, writing in her diary helped her cope. “It was a great way to manage my anxiety and to process everything that had happened to me during the day,” she told an interviewer.

Science backs her up: One study found that writing about stressful events helps lower your heart rate and reduce feelings of hostility. Another study found that writing in a journal improves your ability to focus. With benefits like these, it’s no wonder journaling has become super popular: #journaling has more than 2 million posts on Instagram, where people share photos of their beloved scribble-filled, collage-plastered, and photo-covered journals.

Facing the Blank Page

Right about now, you might be thinking, Sounds great, but I’m not a good writer. Or I’d love to keep a journal, but my handwriting’s terrible. Or maybe you just have no idea how to start. Don’t stress! Journaling should feel like the opposite of homework—there are no rules, so do whatever feels best. You can even do it with friends. Sometimes my friends and I journal together while listening to music, or we read from our old journals and laugh about shared memories. Here are my tips for filling that first notebook:

1) Start Simple

No need to write an hour a day. Try a 15-minute entry once a week, then work up to three per week.

2) Go With Your Flow:

If you confine yourself to beautiful handwriting and ABSOLUTELY NO DOODLES, you’ll get discouraged. If you hate writing by hand, type entries on your computer or phone!

3) Take It With You:

I journal everywhere (on public transportation or while waiting to meet a friend). Just make sure you don’t lose yours. I once lost a journal, and I cried for hours! I wonder who has it now . . .

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