Pen to Paper Strategy Helps Diminish Worry
Aging Matters

A study found that writing about your feelings could help you perform stressful tasks 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, an 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 these worries out of your head through expressive writing, those cognitive resources freed up to work toward the task you're completing and you become more efficient."

Expressive writing makes the mind work less hard on upcoming stressful tasks, which is what makes worrier 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 twenty 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 the pen on paper and if you run short on what to write, just rewrite what was written.
  • Write only for your eyes. Do not share.
  • If you get into it but feel overwhelmed with emotion or stress, stop. Pick up later.
  • Expect emotions to come up especially in the first few days. Eventually, the feeling level out.

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Carol Marak, aging advocate, She's earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.

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Aging Matters is a weekly column tackling everyday challenges that our growing elderly population and their loved ones face. It is also published in a variety of syndication partners including newspapers all over the country.

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