Why you should talk about your feelings

Putting your feelings into words can make you feel better. In the wake of the ongoing “mindfulness” movement, a study from the University of California confirms some of what we already knew to be true: Emotional awareness is an important life skill.

Often when we’re asked what’s wrong, we glaze over the truth with an easy “I’m tired” or “I’m stressed.” The truth is often deeper, and more vulnerable than that—a reality that UCLA psychologists echo in brain imaging scans, which reveal that putting our feelings into words, talking with a therapist or friend or writing in our journal can simply make us feel better. 

Attributing words to feelings

The study observed that when an individual attributes the word “angry” to an angry face, the amygdala—a part of the brain that plays a key role in processing emotions like fear and anxiety—decreases in activity. Meanwhile, the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that is associated with the processing of emotional information, becomes more active. The research suggests that when you put emotions into words, you’re activating the prefrontal cortex while also dampening the amygdala. While it’s considered ancient wisdom that talking about our feelings can be cathartic, this study helps solidify the claim on a scientific basis.

The role of mindfulness

Another study at UCLA combining Buddhist teachings and modern neuroscience worked alongside the brain imaging scan and sought to uncover the role of mindfulness—a calming technique where one focuses on what is true in the present moment, without passing judgment—in identifying emotions. The study enlisted participants to fill out mindfulness questionnaires following the round of the brain scans, and it found that the more mindful participants revealed higher degrees of right ventrolateral cortex activation during the brain-imaging scan.

Minimizing everyday anxiety

Increasingly exposed in a competitive world, the pressure for people to be better, faster and stronger is only growing, which influences feelings of anxiety, as observed en masse in recent Western studies. Anxiety is defined as a feeling of unease about an uncertain outcome, so practicing mindfulness regularly—in the form of a meditation practice, for example—could improve your reasoning response to ambiguous emotional experiences, especially when coupled with the awareness to properly label what “sad,” “angry” or “scared” may feel like internally. Mentors and leaders—everyone from teachers to CEOs—should explore how to integrate mindfulness training to help people improve and stabilize their mental well being, as the benefits go beyond productivity. How are you using the power of communication to help cultivate healthy, happy minds.