Writing about your feelings can help your brain work more efficiently, new research finds.
For people who are chronic worriers, this method can help free up a lot of cognitive resources.
Mr Hans Schroder, the study’s first author, said:
“…it’s kind of like people who struggle with worry are constantly multitasking — they are doing one task and trying to monitor and suppress their worries at the same time.
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.”
In the study, one group of chronic worriers wrote about their deepest feelings for eight minutes before they did a stressful task.
They were compared to a group who wrote about what they had done the previous day.
Scans revealed that the brains of those who had expressed their emotions worked more efficiently under stress.
Dr Jason Moser, study co-author, said:
“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.”
Studies have shown repeatedly that expressive writing can be useful for dealing with stressful events in the past.
This study, though, suggests it can help people deal with upcoming stressful events.
Dr Moser said:
“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.'”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Psychophysiology (Schroder et al., 2017).