Journaling of Emotions Helps Worriers Improve Performance

Some people worry more than others. Unfortunately, the concerns may detrimentally influence future performance of tasks. A new study using electroencephalographic feedback finds that the solution to this dilemma may easily accomplished.

In the study, Michigan State University (MSU) researchers found that simply writing about your feelings may help you perform an upcoming stressful task more efficiently.

Investigators say the research provides the first neural evidence for the benefits of expressive writing.

“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,” explains lead author Hans Schroder, an MSU doctoral student in psychology and a clinical intern at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital.

“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.”

Schroder conducted the study at Michigan State with Jason Moser, associate professor of psychology and director of MSU’s Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, and Tim Moran, a research scientist at Emory University.

The findings appear online in the journalĀ Psychophysiology.

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 uses 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, “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.'”

Source: Michigan State University