Whether it’s politics, work or relationship drama making you feel stressed, a new study has found that writing down positive thoughts might just help ease the pressure.
Spending 20 minutes a day jotting down positive experiences and thoughts – “anything from being moved by a good book, painting or piece of music, to falling in love” – may be enough to decrease stress levels, said lead researcher Michael Smith, Associate Professor of Psychology at Northumbria University.
The study divided people aged 19 to 77 into two groups: the first was asked to write about the most positive experiences of their life for 20 minutes per day, while the other was asked to write about a neutral topic such as their plans for the rest of the day.
They were asked to do this for three days in a row and levels of anxiety were measured before and after. It’s worth noting that people taking part in the study weren’t diagnosed with anxiety, they simply recorded how anxious and stressed they felt.
“We found a significantly greater decrease in anxiety for those people who wrote about positive experiences, compared with those who wrote about neutral topics,” Smith wrote in an article for The Conversation.
Four weeks later, participants reported their levels of stress and anxiety again and they were still lower than the other group.
Smith continued: “We also found that writing about happy moments was effective, regardless of the levels of distress that people reported at the start of the study.”
When media asked if gratitude journals might help people, the researcher said “participants wrote about a range of positive thoughts and experiences, so we couldn’t conclude on the basis of the evidence from our study that gratitude journals work”.
People with bullet journals could however add a ‘positive experiences’ section to their journals, while other people could easily start writing a daily diary of positivity – either using a plain notebook or buying an empty diary with plenty of space to record experiences.
The beauty is the experiences could be from years ago, it doesn’t have to be something that happened that day.
“I would say that a huge advantage of positive writing is that people can be flexible to do it whenever they feel they need to, or whenever it works best for them,” Smith added.
“So if people find benefits in keeping a daily diary then that’s great, but for others, they may feel more comfortable just with writing whenever they feel the need, or if they’re feeling particularly stressed or in a low mood.”
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