Recently moved by a touching film? Fell in love with a masterful piece of music? Had a hearty talk with an old friend? Write them all down. An excellent way to shield oneself from anxiety and stress is to jot down positive emotions, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology.
To investigate the effects of writing down happy thoughts on a person’s mental health, as well as physical health, researchers enlisted 71 participants, ages 19 to 77, and assigned them to two groups. One of the groups, which consisted of 37 participants, was tasked with writing down their most positive life experiences for 20 minutes a day for three consecutive days, while the other group, consisting of 34 participants, wrote over the same time frame about mundane topics that did not necessarily evoke any kind of emotion, such as their daily plans.
Writing for The Conversation, Michael Smith, a co-author of the study, said the researchers “found a significantly greater decrease in anxiety for those people who wrote about positive experiences, compared with those who wrote about neutral topics.” The level of stress each person experienced did not seem to matter, as the writing experience had a positive effect on the first group regardless of the degree by which they experienced anxiety.
Long-term effects have also been discovered among the participants; four weeks after the actual experiment, the participants who wrote positive emotions down on paper experienced significantly lower levels of anxiety and stress compared to before participating in the study.
However, the exercise did nothing to affect the participants’ physical health, contrary to expectations. The study has also not been tested on those who experienced psychological conditions, so the researchers can’t vet for this exercise’s efficacy within a clinical setting.
This is not the first study to investigate the mental effects of intimate writing. In 2006, researchers discovered that journaling about stressful events significantly decreased the levels of anxiety on participants compared to drawing about them. The study appears on The Arts in Psychotherapy.