I’ve kept a journal, off and on, for just about as long as I can remember (as long as I’ve been able to write, anyway). To me there is something valuable in naming and trying to understand emotional experience in particular, either through writing about it or talking it through with someone I trust, and I’ve always been interested in the idea of being an observer of your own emotional states, experiencing them but being aware of what they are and not getting totally swept up in them. Not that I can always do it, mind you, but it seems like a good idea.
Some of what I’ve read about mindfulness meditation indicates that it fosters that kind of awareness. Recent research into brain activity and mindfulness shows why naming emotional states might be valuable. The amygdala, an area of the brain important in experiencing emotions and mediating the physiological responses to them, is activated when we see faces bearing the expressions of particular emotions. In a recent study, people who saw faces expressing strong emotions like anger or fear and were given emotional labels to describe them showed less activity in the amygdala and more in an area of the cortex called the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. This indicates that their raw emotional responses were held in check to some degree by that part of the cortex, which is involved in processing emotions and inhibiting behavior (although its exact role is not known). Furthermore, the shift of activity to the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex was more pronounced in those who were more mindful, in the sense of using the Buddhist technique of labeling emotions as they arise and then letting them go. So maybe the Buddha’s ancient advice about observing and labeling your emotions is helpful because it shifts us out of a reactive mode and into a more reflective mode. You can read more about it in this article from EurekAlert.