We’ve all experienced being stressed out. It could be because of a work problem, or you had a little spat between you and your significant other. In any case, too much stress is never good for anyone. That’s why scientists have done a significant amount of research in order to help alleviate stress when you feel like you’re being overwhelmed. What they found was that one simple habitual practice was enough to keep your stress levels at manageable levels.
The research was conducted at Michigan State University. What they found was that writing journals helped lessen overthinking. The researchers asked a group of students who were identified as chronically anxious to perform a computer-based “flanker task”. They were told that this was done to measure their abilities to react to external stimuli as well as how accurate their responses were.
Half of the students were told to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings, while the other half were tasked to write about what they did yesterday. The participants were then taken EEG measurements during this task. While the speed and accuracy test results were practically the same for both groups, they found that the group who were free to write about their own thoughts and feelings performed the task more efficiently. The results also showed that writing for the sake of self-expression help alleviate anxiety and reduce stress levels.
According to associate professor of psychology and director of MSU’s Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, Jason Moser, expressive writing is less taxing towards the mind, often becoming some sort of method to vent out all the worries that make a person overly anxious. As they write about their thoughts and feelings, they feel like a burden is taken off of their mind, making their heads “lighter” so to speak.
Even though the researchers of MSU had a breakthrough, there were other research studies that support the hypothesis of the therapeutic capabilities of journal writing. In 1986, Writing to Heal author James Pennebaker conducted his own experiment.
He gathered a few people and separated them into two groups. Group A was asked to write about their worst experiences while Group B were told to write about things that they can observe from their day-to-day life. After six months of continuous writing and observing, the first group showed a more stable mindset as compared to the second one.
Because of Pennebaker’s efforts, a new field of study was founded. A correlation between expressive writing and its subsequent benefits to the immune system was found and given the name of Psychoneuroimmunology.
An excerpt from Pennebaker’s study was as follows:
“Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives,” he explained. “You don’t just lose a job, you don’t just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of who we are — our financial situation, our relationships with others, our views of ourselves . . . [and] writing helps us focus and organize the experience.”
So the next time you feel overly stressed out, try writing about it. It might just make you feel better.