In the corner of my childhood bedroom sits a stack of journals about as tall as my waist. Black marble notebook on top of black marble notebook, mixed with the occasional moleskin or legal pad, in that dusty nook exists an exhausting, and haunting, log of my day-to-day existence since I was 14 years old. Some days were just lists, others were angry tirades, and sometimes they were tickets of gratitude. Now, in my Collegetown apartment, my stack keeps growing, it just looks a little different this time. Black marble notebook on top of an overpriced textbook, on top of a black marble notebook.
I’m not overselling it when I tell you that keeping a journal is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself. So much is happening in the world that it becomes so easy to lose track of our own lives, and forget to check in with ourselves. As mundane as our days may often seem to us, our time here — or anywhere, really — inevitably builds up to paint a grander, more colorful, complicated picture. And if you don’t already, there’s no better time to start journaling than right now.
Maybe you’ve never tried journaling before. Or, maybe you have and simply felt like you couldn’t keep up. Maybe you even forgot about your journal until just now. Whatever the reasons may be, stop being so hard on yourself and start anew. Let your journal be the one area of your life where you face no pressure. You can start small — maybe a sentence or two a day, and gradually add more. Between the endless lieu of essays and research papers, let your journal be something you do for yourself.
Besides the election and just the general state of things, I personally find this time of year to be the most difficult. Although the snow has only just begun to hit the ground, I constantly feel like I’m trudging through — as I know many of us feel. This year, every normal problem has become intensified — and it’s not like Cornell was a school known for being great with mental health before the pandemic, either. Now, it’s like six feet apart on steroids. And while I can’t pretend like journaling will solve all of your problems, it’s still an amazing place to start. A quick search on Google Scholar will lead to hundreds of pages of research studies demonstrating the positive effects journaling can have on mental health. Famed social psychologist of UT Austin, Prof. James Pennebaker has conducted a lifetime of research on what he refers to as “writing therapy.” In an excerpt from Emotional Agility by Susan David, she writes that “Pennebaker found that the people who wrote about emotionally charged episodes experienced marked improvement in their physical and mental well-being. They were happier, less depressed and less anxious. In the months after the writing sessions, they had lower blood pressure, improved immune function, and fewer visits to the doctor. ” Maybe it isn’t a juice cleanse that we need as much as it is a fresh, crisp, black marble notebook and a pen.
The best advice I was ever given about journaling came from my 11th grade English teacher who taught me that if I feel like I have written something by mistake, I shouldn’t cross it out but instead, I should keep going. For me, journaling works best right before I go to bed. I set a 12 minute timer and I let myself go. I don’t listen to music, I sit on my floor and lean my back against my bed, and I breathe. We all have some spare time, even if it’s just 12 minutes. Maybe your journal will exist on the notes app of your phone or on your TCAT commute. Whatever works, as long as it’s consistent. I promise that you will get so, so, so much out of it.
Odeya Rosenband is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Passionfruit runs every other Tuesday this semester.