The strategy of putting pen to paper can help you diminish worry

-A A +A

Aging Matters

By Carol Marak

A study found that writing about your feelings could help you perform an stressful task more efficiently, says a Michigan State University study.

Years ago, I engaged in a daily ritual called morning pages and recall how the early day event helped prepare my day, for the better. The book I followed, The Artist Way, encouraged practitioners not to judge what we wrote. It was more about putting pen to paper our fears, judgments, worries, and the problems of the day. Over time, I looked forward to waking early to my coffee and journal.

Now a study suggests that we adopt a similar practice. The lead author of the research, a MSU doctoral student in psychology and a clinical intern at Harvard says, they found 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,” Schroder said. “Our findings show that if you get the worrying out of your head and express them through writing, your cognitive resources are freed up to work toward the task at hand, and it will become more efficient.”

Expressive writing makes the mind work less hard on upcoming stressful tasks, which is what makes worriers get burned out. Their worried minds work harder and hotter. The writing technique takes the edge off their brains so it can perform the task with a cooler head.

It makes perfect sense to me, recalling the daily ritual. My body and mind, after 30 minutes of writing without specific purpose or direction, helped me feel relaxed. It was like my head was empty or mindless chatter, more focused to concentrate on what lies ahead.

Expressive writing is a strategy of wellness because it works to help alleviate stress, simply expressing what is on the mind and in the heart. It focuses on the feelings and not on the words, events, memories, things, or people in the content. Often it is turbulent and unpredictable, and not about the events but more about the feelings about the events or what happened. Try this exercise:

• Write a minimum of 20 minutes per day for four consecutive days

• Choose a topic that’s personal and important to you

• Write continuously, and pay no attention to punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Keep pen on paper

• Write only for your eyes. Do not share it with anyone.

• If you get into it but feel overwhelmed with emotion or stress, stop the exercise.

• Expect emotions to come up especially in the first few days. Eventually, the feeling level out.

Sign up for AGE with PURPOSE, my weekly Newsletter. To request, send email to - Carol@Seniorcare.com.

Carol Marak is an aging advocate and editor at Seniorcare.com. She’s earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.