Not everyone has the time to launch their own personal blog or journal where they can rant and rave about what goes on in their daily lives. And not everyone has the patience to read through long social media posts that serve a similar purpose. But people who worry too much just might benefit from such forms of expressive writing, according to the findings of a new study from Michigan State University.
In a statement quoted by the Economic Times, lead author and MSU doctoral student in psychology Hans Schroder said that people who worry too much are akin to those who multitask on a regular basis, as they try to focus on one thing, yet also try to hold back their worries at the same time. Expressive writing, however, could be useful in helping worriers vent out and feel less distracted in their day-to-day lives.
“Our findings show that if you get these worries out of your head through expressive writing, those cognitive resources are freed up to work toward the task you’re completing and you become more efficient.”
The study involved a group of college students who were identified as “chronically anxious,” and asked to complete a so-called “flanker task” on a computer. This test gauged the accuracy of the students’ responses and their reaction times, but prior to that, one group of students was first asked to write about their “deepest thoughts and feelings” about the task for eight minutes. The second, or control group was asked to write about the things they did on the day before the test.
Both groups were then asked to complete the flanker task at similar speed and accuracy levels. Once the test results were compared, the group that engaged in expressive writing was more efficient in terms of using fewer brain resources.
It was more than 30 years ago when expressive writing was notably considered for the first time as a way for people to improve their emotional health. According to Collective Evolution, author and psychologist James Pennebaker conducted a study in 1986, where he asked one group of subjects to write about the worst thing they ever experienced in life, and another group to write about mundane, unimportant things. Pennebaker observed the subjects for six months, and concluded that the group that engaged in expressive writing didn’t visit the doctor as often as the group that wrote about less relevant topics.
Pennebaker’s study was one of several that had proven how expressive writing could help people cope with traumatic life events, but the new MSU study, while similar in some ways, is more geared toward people who worry too much, as noted by Science Blog.
According to Michigan State University associate professor of psychology Jason Moser, who worked with Schroder on the new study, worriers can be compared to a car like a 1974 Chevrolet Impala, as they “guzzle more brain gas” than those who offload their worries with expressive forms of writing, much like a Toyota Prius is far more economical than the gas-guzzlers of the 1970s.
In conclusion, Moser believes that expressive writing can “take the edge off” a figuratively overheated brain, allowing people who worry too much to perform their day-to-day tasks with less stress to distract them.
“Expressive writing makes the mind work less hard on upcoming stressful tasks, which is what worriers often get ‘burned out’ over, their worried minds working harder and hotter. This technique takes the edge off their brains so they can perform the task with a ‘cooler head.'”
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