Mindfulness Neuroscience

The Neuroscience of Journaling and its Benefits

Ceramic Teacup and Journal

This year, I was introduced to the practice of Journaling by a fellow friend and trainer, Anne Walsh. (Hi Anne! Look, you are featured in one of my blog posts! 😊 ).

I had heard a lot about journaling before, I used to do it as a teenager, but it’s been years since I put a pen on paper and let my thoughts flow…

That is… until a few months ago when Anne presented her journaling practice and the benefits she’s got from it to a mastermind group that I’m part of.

Journaling can have many benefits and many functions. Here are some of the ones Anne and the other members of the group mentioned.

Journaling benefits and functions:

  • It can be a safe place to ‘dump’ what’s in our heads (especially difficult feelings such as irritation, annoyance, anger), as it takes the edge of strong emotions
  • Can be used as a record – see the same recurring themes and patterns? Same problems you’re facing with the same people? That can mean something…
  • Can help us understand what is really going on behind all our ‘surface’ feelings/behaviours
  • Clarifying thoughts and becoming objective: it is easy to go back to what we wrote a few hours/days/weeks before and actually distinguish between reality and our own feelings/opinions/filters/scenarios.
  • Help to remember ideas for business/work/free time
  • Gratitude practice
  • Write your small and big Wins and celebrate them
  • Support to reflect back on the week and review, get insights
  • Catch our internal critics and saboteurs in the way we repeatedly write about ourselves
  • Mindfulness
  • Free therapy 😊, healing the past, etc.

Well, with so many potential benefits (and I’m sure the list can be extended), the neuroscience aficionado in me could not miss the chance to do some research.

Why is journaling so helpful and so efficient in supporting us in so many ways?

Here are some of the main points I discovered:

  • There is quite a complex process behind the hand writing involved in journaling and the process of writing about our emotions, thoughts, moments.
  • There are many areas of our brain get activated and this helps us to process information and emotions easier, taking the edge of the difficult ones, helps us make connections and get new insights, strengthens our memory, etc.
  • Writing by hand, because it’s a lot slower than our capacity to think, forces us to be present in the moment, to stay with our thoughts. In a way, it stops a bit the ‘monkey mind’ and helps us be mindful, engage our senses.

What are some of the areas of our brain involved in journaling?

  • The left hemisphere, more specifically Broca’s area, which is associated with speech production and articulation. Our ability to articulate ideas, as well as use words accurately in spoken and written language, has been attributed to this crucial area[i]. With its help, we already start to express in words what we feel and what we think.
  • Our limbic system (part of the Elephant), and specifically our amygdala, which is responsible for processing our emotions, and which triggers our fight/flight/freeze reactions under fear, anxiety, threats or stress. When we start writing and thus, processing those emotions, the amygdala ‘calms down’ a little (‘name it to tame it’). As journaling becomes a habit, our amygdala becomes calmer and calmer. That is because we start to understand better the emotions we experience, so we don’t experience them anymore at the same intensity as before[ii]. We also stop perceiving our imagined threats as being real.
  • When we write by hand repeatedly (and even when we take notes when we learn something), the information will start to pass easier from the short-term memory to the long-term memory. It’s like we signal to our brain that what we write is more important. Also, if we write about the past, maybe trying to heal something, we will pass information from the long-term memory to the working (short-term) memory.  It also helps us to be faster at connecting ideas/memories/facts… Something new we learnt or thought about, we connect easier with something we learnt earlier, and we can build new ideas and gain new insights out of these connections.
  • From a sensory point of view, many of our senses are involved: touching (we touch the pen, the paper), seeing (we see the notebook, the pen, our writing), smelling (the smell of paper from the notebook, ink or paste from our pen), hearing (especially if we write with a pencil). So, our brain it’s a lot more active when we journal and write by hand (than when we write on a keyboard, for example). Meaning, it is more focused, helps us make connections easier, remember things better, process information better.

How to start journaling

If you want to try journaling (or get back to it), you can start small, in 5 minutes/day or less, and you can do that by:

  • Setting an intention for the day (nothing fancy, think something like ‘Today I am joyous and creative’).
  • Keeping a gratitude practice (3 things for which you are grateful today).
  • You know what? You can do whatever works for you 😊. Feel free to experiment!  

Let me know how that works out for you!

Thank you for reading,

Magda.

PS: A big reason I write is to meet people so feel free to say Hi! on Linkedin here as I’d love to learn more about you.


[i] Source: https://www.britannica.com/science/Broca-area

[ii] Source: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2009/feb/15/psychology-usa

Photo by Carli Jeen on Unsplash


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