Writing about your feelings helps boost performance in exams, interviews and at work, study finds
The next time you are preparing for something stressful, whether it’s an exam, an interview or a date, try writing your feelings down.
For the first time, evidence has been found to show expressive writing helps clear the mind when someone is anxious, which can help you tackle stressful tasks more efficiently.
Researchers from Michigan State University studied the brain activity of chronically anxious people and found those who wrote down their worries were more efficient at one particular task.
“Worrying takes up cognitive resources; 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,” said Hans Schroder, lead author of the paper.
“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 participants were asked to complete a test that measured their reaction time and accuracy, but before the test, half were asked to write their feelings down.
Those in the group who had written their feelings down were more efficient at completing the task, according to the paper, in the journal Psychophysiology.
“Here, worried college students who wrote about their worries were able to offload these worries and run more like a brand-new Prius,” said co-author Jason Moser, “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.
The authors say 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,” says Moser.
“This technique takes the edge off their brains so they can perform the task with a ‘cooler head’.”