DETROIT (WWJ) – Are you a worry wort? Stressed out about an upcoming presentation, test or conversation? Then start writing.
When you worry about a task it interferes with your brain’s ability to perform well.
New research from Michigan State University finds that taking five to ten minutes to write about your feelings before a stressful task or event can help clear your brain so you’ll perform better. It’s known as expressive writing.
“Unload those worries, so it’s almost like a brain dump,” Jason Moser, a psychology professor and director of MSU’s Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, told WWJ Health Reporter Dr. Deanna Lites.
And it doesn’t matter if you put pen to paper or use an electronic device, just get those worries out of your head.
For the study, college students identified as chronically anxious through a validated screening measure completed a computer-based “flanker task” that measured their response accuracy and reaction times. Before the task, about half of the participants wrote about their deepest thoughts and feelings about the upcoming task for eight minutes; the other half, in the control condition, wrote about what they did the day before.
While the two groups performed at about the same level for speed and accuracy, the expressive-writing group performed the flanker task more efficiently, meaning they used fewer brain resources, measured with electroencephalography, or EEG, in the process.
Moser used a car analogy to describe the effect. “Here, worried college students who wrote about their worries were able to offload these worries and run more like a brand new Prius,” he said in a statement, “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.”
While much previous research has shown that expressive writing can help individuals process past traumas or stressful events, the current study suggests the same technique can help people – especially worriers – prepare for stressful tasks in the future.
“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,” Moser said. “This technique takes the edge off their brains so they can perform the task with a ‘cooler head.'”