Researcher Melissa Anne Iseri studied a group of people who were prone to worry, and compared them to a group who weren't. She then randomly assigned half the participants of each group to either practice therapeutic journaling for 20 minutes three days in a row, or write neutrally for the same period of time. Those who were writing therapeutically were specifically told to write about their feared outcomes in a positive light, focus on the potential benefits associated with their fears, and devise ways to cope with their fears; the neutral writers were asked to write about things that they didn't fear, like their activities from the day before.
As expected, those who had been excessive worriers found a significant reduction in their worry levels a week after the intervention. (The other three groups didn't show a significant change.)
A few things about this research were interesting:
- A relatively short intervention--20 minutes of writing--can have not only a short-term impact on stress levels, but a measurable positive change in thinking that could be seen at least a week later.
- Therapeutic journaling didn't have a significant impact on those who weren't already prone to excessive worry; the real benefits were seen by those who worried too much, and may feel the need for such a journaling intervention.
- Just the act of journaling in itself didn't have an impact; therapeutic journaling involved writing about fears, finding the "bright side" in their worst-case scenarios, and brainstorming effective coping strategies.
If you think you may be a chronic worrier, you may want to try this yourself. Give yourself a few 20-minute journaling sessions where you look at potential benefits of what you fear, assess the coping strategies you have available, and basically develop optimism. Keep it up for 3 days, or maintain the practice for as long as you feel a benefit. Focusing your mental energy in a more positive direction can bring lasting relief for excessive worry.
Additional Journaling Resources:
Iseri, M. A. The effect of positive written disclosure on excessive worry. Alliant International University, Fresno.