Looking for a way to help manage anxiety? Grab a pen.
Logging your stressors in a journal might help mitigate those emotions, according to new research presented at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s 2017 conference.
Researchers found that those who wrote down each event that caused concern, as well as an analysis of how the concern made them feel, experienced less worry over time.
The results indicate that keeping a journal could be an effective tool as part of an overall treatment plan for those who struggle with anxiety.
How it worked
Researchers examined 51 participants with generalized anxiety disorder over the course of 10 days and then again 30 days after the experiment to measure levels of worry in order to reach their conclusion.
Participants either used a journal, dubbed the “worry outcome journal,” or wrote down their general daily thoughts (not specific worries or fears), which is called a “thought log.” Both groups were asked the amount of distress those thoughts caused.
This latter group was used as a control. It’s worth noting that a “thought log” is a common technique used in cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, which is a method of mental health treatment focused on making the patient aware of negative thinking patterns.
The group that used the journal were instructed to write down their worries and to make specific predictions about the future as it pertained to those worries. They were also told to rate the worries based on the level of distress they caused and how often they thought about it. Then they were asked to record the outcome of the specific worries and whether or not the events in question turned out better than, as bad as or worse than they thought.
All study volunteers were randomly prompted four times throughout the day to write down their entries. They were also told to write in either the thought log or the worry outcome journal at the end of each day.
The research found that all participants noticed that a majority of their worries or negative thoughts did not come to fruition, Medscape reported. However, those who used the worry journal method, showed a more significant decrease in worrying following the experiment compared with those who used the thought log.
So, should you start a worry journal?
Maybe. There’s no definitive way to tell if the journal technique would work on everyone.
The study had a few flaws: The sample size was small and, more importantly, the control group participated in a common therapy exercise, which means there wasn’t a true non-intervention control group. In other words, without a sense of what happens when a person does nothing, it’s hard to know if the journal is truly effective.
The study’s authors also stressed that anxiety conditions typically need more complex treatment overall. It may be best to use the journal as one component of therapy in order for it to have the biggest impact.
That being said, it’s hard to deny the power of putting pen to paper. Previous research has found that writing down negative thoughts and physically tossing them away may clear the mind. Other studies also show expressive writing might help with both physical and emotional wounds following a trauma. So it couldn’t hurt to try it if you’re feeling excessive or chronic stress.
Who’s ready to go out to their nearest stationery store?