Journaling: The Importance of Processing Emotions
By Melissa Camacho
Feeling overwhelmed by repetitive thoughts and emotions? Take some time to write them down. Journaling is an expressive writing tool we use as emotional therapy to reduce ruminating thoughts (Scott). Journaling reduces anxious overthinking by helping you process your emotions more effectively. In this article, you will learn how processing emotions through journaling increases your cognitive ability to examine your experiences, helps you develop decision-making abilities, and improves your physical and mental health.
How Processing Your Emotions Creates a Goal-Oriented Brain
Processing emotions through journaling is important because it helps us clarify and define problems we experience. It gives us the cognitive ability to find a solution. Research studies show that writing about your emotions activates a vital part of your brain called the mid-cingulate cortex (MCC) and regulates neural activity (DiMenichi, et al). Studies show that the MCC predicts, monitors, and tracks the outcomes of your decisions and how your goals are met when interacting with others (Apps, et al.). In addition, there are two other parts of your brain that are activated through emotional processing by connecting your emotions to your successful experiences: the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC).
The anterior cingulate cortex part of your brain is what links your actions with rewards, and together with the posterior cingulate cortex helps you associate your memories with specific outcomes and emotions (Rolls). These brain functions help you recall patterns of your success as you clarify your emotions and determine future outcomes as well.
How Unprocessed Emotions Affect Your Body
Bottling up your emotions can drain your physical energy. Your organs, tissues, muscles, endocrine glands, and skin are receptive to your emotional experiences, causing memories to be stored in your brain and your body. For instance, anger and fear affect your chest area and depression affects your limbs and most of the parts of your body (“Can Trauma Be Stored in Your Body?”).
Anger affects the body by releasing adrenaline. Adrenaline and stress cause muscle tension and an increase in your heart rate, also known as the “fight/flight/freeze” response (Hartney). According to Medicine Plus, depression can make your body feel less energetic, a lack of appetite, and a lack of concentration. (“Pain and Your Emotions”). As you accumulate unprocessed emotions, they remain stored in your organs, muscles, and tissues, leading to chronic diseases (Ciolek). Medicine Plus, and medical research conducted by Hartney and Ciolek, show that it is more challenging to prevent or reduce emotional distress from accumulating in your body without processing your emotions.
Benefits of Processing Your Emotions through Journaling
You can promote your physical and mental health through expressive writing to release intense emotions from building up in your body. According to Professor Roger Baker, researcher and Professor of Clinical Psychology at Bournemouth University, emotional processing heals us from mental and physical distress by acting as a second immune system to improve our mental and physical health (“The Emotional Processing Scale”). This means processing emotions not only heals, but automatically protects us from emotional distress building up in our minds and bodies.
Professor Roger Baker’s study also proves that processing your emotions through expressive writing is a healthy treatment to relieve stress, depression, and anxiety. Other essential benefits of emotional journaling include: reduction in blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, asthmatic symptoms, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, and helps boost self-esteem (“Journaling Improves Health and Self-Esteem”).
How Processing Your Emotions Helps You Transition from Rumination to Mental Growth
According to Kaiser Permanente, practicing journaling can strengthen your thinking and decision-making abilities over time. Specific strategies used to build these skills include:
- Specifying and keeping track of goals you want to achieve;
- Revisiting your journal entries and taking note of your growth and progress;
- Developing self-confidence as you notice your own progress in processing your emotions to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, grief, and fear; and
- Finding more creative and communicative ways to express your thoughts and ideas (“Why Everyone Should Keep a Journal -7 Surprising Benefits”).
It all starts with processing your emotions as a productive way to increase your self-awareness and self-expression. Our journaling program at The Love Story can provide you with the space and opportunity to process, clarify, and release your emotions. We encourage and benefit you to focus more on successfully managing your daily activities while staying present. Journaling your emotions over time can help you achieve a self-confident and goal-oriented mindset.
Apps, Matthew A.J., Joshua H. Bolsters, and Patricia L. Lockwood. 20 Dec 2013. The role of the midcingulate cortex in monitoring others’ decisions.
Ciolek, Joanna “How to Release Emotions Stuck in Your Body” Paces Connection. 16 Nov 2018. https://www.pacesconnection.com/blog/how-to-release-emotions-stuck-in-your-body
DiMenichi, Brynne. C., Jamil P. Bhanji, Ahmet O. Cecili, & Elizabeth Tricomi,. “Effects of Expressive Writing on Neural Processing During Learning.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 13, .6 Nov 2019.
Hartney, Elizabeth “How Emotional Pain Affects Your Body” Verywell Mind. 07 Jul 2020.
Rolls, Edmond T. “The cingulate cortex and limbic systems for emotion, action, and memory” Brain, Structure, and Function.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6875144/. Accessed 01 Aug 2022.
Scott, Elizabeth “Why Do People Obsess Over Things?” Verywell Mind. Dec 2021
Tatatakovsky, Margarita “4 Journaling Exercises to Help You Manage Your Emotions” Psych Central. 2 May 2012.
“Journaling Improves Health and Self-Esteem” Riverside.
https://riverside.networkofcare.org/Aging/library/article.aspx?id=52. Accessed 15 Jul 2022.
“Pain and Your Emotions” Medicine Plus.
https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000417.htm. Accessed 03 Aug 2022.
“The Emotional Processing Scale” Bournemoth.
https://www.bournemouth.ac.uk/research/projects/emotional-processing. Accessed 19 Jul 2022.
“Self-Awareness: The Key to Taking Care of Your Mental Health and Wellbeing” Inner Melbourne Clinical Psychology.
https://www.innermelbpsychology.com.au/self-awareness-mental-health/#. Accessed 20 Jul 2022
“Why Everyone Should Keep a Journal -7 Surprising Benefits” Kaiser Permanente Health. 20 March 2020.