Writing Down Feelings Helps Reduce Stress And Worry: Study
Writing about the things that make you worried and anxious may reduce the worry and allow you to perform better in tasks. The study confirms the 1980s study regarding the benefits of journaling.
The Problem With Worrying
If you've ever found yourself constantly worried and overthinking, you're probably not alone. The problem with worrying is that it often involves events which haven't happened yet and that may not even happen at all. Unfortunately, this simple, uncontrollable act could also lead to anxiety-related disorders.
A new study published in the journal Psychophysiology details how one simple task can help individuals ease their minds and perform better in tasks. Researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) have found neural evidence to support the benefits of writing down the things that elicit feelings of worry and anxiety.
Expressive Writing And Performance
Researchers have found evidence showing journaling or expressive writing as an effective means of reducing worries. In order to do this, researchers gathered chronically-worried college students and engaged them in a computer-based "flanker task" which could measure accuracy and reaction times.
Before doing the task, half of the participants were tasked to write down their activities from the day before, while the other half was given eight minutes to write down their deepest thoughts and feelings regarding the task at hand.
Using electroencephalography (EEG), researchers found that while the two groups performed at the same level of speed and accuracy, the group that was given time to jot down their thoughts and worries were able to complete the task more efficiently. This means that they completed the task using fewer brain resources. Essentially, those who engaged in expressive writing were able to perform just as accurately as the control group, but without making the brain work too hard for the same task.
The Car Analogy And Psychoneuroimmunology
Researcher Jason Moser described the effects of releasing worries on productivity and brain resource using a car analogy, saying "Here, worried college students who wrote about their worries were able to offload these worries and run more like a brand new Prius whereas the worried students who didn't offload their worries ran more like a '74 Impala - guzzling more brain gas to achieve the same outcomes on the task."
These results provide the first neural evidence of a popular research made by James Pennebaker in 1986 where he described the healing impacts of journal writing on emotional health and the immune system. In his research, he tasked one group with writing about mundane topics such as the weather, and another to write about the worst events of their lives. He followed the groups for six months and found that the expressive writers went to the doctor fewer times compared to the control group. Because of his research, the field of psychoneuroimmunology was born.
According to researchers, their evidence show that expressive writing can help, not just individuals with traumatic experiences to cope, but also constant worriers to be prepared for potentially stressful events.