How to Process Emotions Through Journaling

Let Go of Negative Feelings and Grasp New Solutions

A man wearing dark glasses looking thoughtfully off in the distances.
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Have you ever found yourself obsessing over something negative that's happened to you, and getting more and more upset, but feeling unable to let it go? If so, you've experienced rumination, and you're not alone, Rumination is a very common pattern of thinking, but it can also be very stress-inducing and contribute to negative thinking.

When people ruminate about negative things that have happened in their lives, they tend to feel stressed about them when they may not have otherwise felt consciously stressed.

Rumination can be difficult to control, especially when it becomes an unconscious habit. What may start out as an attempt to process negative emotions or find a solution to a problem can quickly devolve into a negative loop of obsessive, negative thinking. However, it's difficult to find a solution to a problem or process emotions surrounding it without ever thinking about the problem. This makes it tricky to find a balance between ignoring problems and ruminating about them.

What is the trick to being able to think about a problem without letting it consume you and your good mood? The following guidelines can help you to examine your life and problems without feeling "owned by" them—to process emotions without falling into the rumination trap.

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Journaling With a Happy Ending

Many studies have confirmed that journaling is an effective strategy for managing stress and processing emotions. However, a journal can be used for rumination just as easily as another person can be used for this purpose. This can happen because there is nobody telling the ruminating person that this is a bad idea to focus on life's frustrations indefinitely.

So how can a journal be used in a positive way? One way is to go over negative events, fully exploring emotions while being sure to end on a positive note. Discuss what you learned from the situation, what you gained in terms of personal growth, and what you hope for in the future.

Journaling Without Heroes or Villains

Talk about past events and look at why certain things happened, but work on forgiving those responsible rather than hating them. It is also important to forgive yourself, too, without ignoring the role you played. This allows you to recognize your actions while also learning from them.

Take responsibility for what you may have anticipated. Write about what you wish happened, but also write about the negative things that could have happened if you’d gotten what you wanted. Write about times in the past where you’ve got what you wanted, but it’s turned out differently than you’d expected. Also, write about times when you didn’t get what you wanted but got something better.

Try Gratitude Journaling

Start a gratitude journal—it helps to be reminded of the good things in life, and there are always good things that can be remembered and appreciated. Doing so can help your health and happiness levels.

Consider starting a meditation practice. It can be a good way to examine your responses more objectively in order to spot problems such as self-sabotage or cognitive distortions.

Give Yourself a Break

Distract yourself with something fun that can lift your mood. It may seem like sticking a band-aid on a broken arm, but finding some distance between yourself and your stressors is important. It allows you to then focus on activities that will make you feel better and lower levels of stress.

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.