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Expressive Writing Helps Alleviate Stress

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Those who find themselves feeling exceedingly stressed, worried or anxious can turn to an old-school method to relax themselves: writing on a piece of paper.

A study found that expressing feelings on a sheet of paper can help “cool” the brain, so that stress-inducing tasks are more efficiently accomplished, Economic Times reports. Worrying takes up cognitive resources, the researchers say. When a person worries, the brain and body are constantly multi-tasking in trying to accomplish a task while trying to suppress or monitor emotions at the same time.

Hans Schroder of Michigan State University, doctoral student and lead author on the study, says,

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.

There is evidence from prior research to back up the fact that expressive writing can help people process stressful events or past traumatic experiences. Jason Moser, associate professor at MSU, adds, “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.”

The researchers recruited college students who identified as suffering from chronic anxiousness using a validated screening measure. The participants completed a computer-based “flanker task” that tracked and measured their response accuracy and reaction times.

Before the test, half of the participants took time to write down their thought and feelings regarding the upcoming task for eight minutes. The other half wrote about what they did the day before. The results showed that while both groups performed similarly in speed and accuracy, the first group that did expressive writing performed in the “flanker test” with more efficiency. In short, they used fewer brain resources in carrying out the task.

The study was published in the journal Psychophysiology.

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