I was reading an interesting study the other day in the journal Science that showed that students who wrote about test-related anxiety for ten minutes before taking an exam improved their test scores, some by up to one grade point. Just the act of expressive writing decreased their worries and allowed them to perform better.
This is counter-intuitive to what I would have thought. Whenever I start thinking about my anxieties they only balloon up into a nuclear mushroom cloud and engulf my brain in a fog so thick I just succumb and often give up. But apparently the process of writing about ones fears and anxieties actually reduces the tendency to think about and dwell on the negative aspects of such fears by allowing one to reexamine the situation in a different light.
So I started thinking about how I could apply this to my own anxiety and fears regarding planning and taking this 1 year sabbatical. But why even stop there? We could probably apply this to any stressful situation in our lives.
Where to start though? There always has to be a starting point right? There must be some rules and regulations to follow, things to do and things to not do. I decided to throw it all out the window and just wing it. Life doesn’t follow rules so why should I?
So I started writing about my fears in taking this sabbatical. I wrote about my fear of running out of money on the road. What would I do? Would relatives bail us out? Could I just get a job in Indonesia and earn some rupiah? But isn’t that what all this planning and sacrifice is for; so that we don’t run out of money? And what’s the worst thing that could happen if we did run out of money? We’ll be mainly staying with family so it’s not like we’d be out on the streets. We probably wouldn’t be the first to run out of money. Why would we run out of money?
I wrote about my fears that my kids could come down with some tropical illness and get really sick. Could we find suitable treatment for them? Would it have long term effects? Would they even God forbid die? But they rarely get sick here at home so why do I think they would get sick somewhere else? Our oldest son has traveled to Indonesia before and he survived (although we almost didn’t). People get sick everywhere right?
I wrote about my job and whether I would be able to come back to something. Would my employer save my job for the year I will be gone or will I have to resign and hope the position or a position is open when I return? How will this adventure affect my current career or future career choices? Do I even want to come back to the same career? Can I make it doing something else? It’s crazy to do something like take a sabbatical in this economy right? I mean millions are looking for work ready to pounce on any opportunity.
I wrote about my worries over my kid’s education. Would we be able to school them and allow them the opportunity to advance like their fellow students sitting in a classroom back home? Are we smart enough and dedicated enough to stick with it and not get lazy and sloppy? Are other parents really able to pull this off? How are they able to do it? I don’t know anything about being a teacher, or do I?
I wrote about every little worry or concern that popped into my mind. I wrote and I wrote. It all came out on paper filling sheet after sheet after sheet. And you know what I found? It really does work. There really is something about the expressive writing process, the actual physical writing, the moving of a pen on paper that helps to put the proper perspective on our worries, insecurities, anxieties and fears. Something happens between the mind thinking it, then twisting it and the hand writing it, that works to transition the fear and anxiety into coherent thought that makes you realize that all this fearful thinking is nothing more than just that; unproven and unsubstantiated fear.
FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real
Our mind is quick, maybe too quick at times. When we write though we have to slow that thinking down, take time to analyze things and maybe that is when we are able to discern fact from fiction and realize that in most situations our fears will never actually materialize. We most likely won’t run out of money. Our kids won’t get sick any more often than any local kid does. We are smart enough and dedicated enough to school our own kids. We can do this and survive.
If you’ve wanted to do something that your mind tells you is nothing but crazy talk, try writing it all down on paper. I’m not talking about typing it on a computer screen; I’m talking about going total old school on it and getting out the paper and pen and sketch your mind out. I hope that as I discovered, you will find that as you write, your fears slowly start to fade away.
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