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Friday, January 8, 2016

List Making: One Way to Deal with Anxiety

Could a list making app cure anxiety? Could list making software alleviate dementia, not just by helping someone get through the day, but by actually increasing brain power?

I'm an advocate of drugless therapies wherever they work. One that simply had not occurred to me, until I read a study about it (whatever that says about me), is dealing with anxiety by making lists.
It's not unfair to say that there are two kinds of people in the world:

1. Those who make lists.
2. Those who don't.

And while sticking to a program may inhibit "creativity," in most situations people who make lists are more productive than those who don't. They may also experience better mental health.


Most people can only hold about four things in their mind at a time. If they are psychologically healthy, relaxed, and in a setting that allows them to concentrate, that might be five or six. Someone who has Alzheimer's or depression or chronic stress might struggle to remember just one thing.

In the modern world, however, we all have more than four or five or six items on our agenda for almost any hour of the day. Making a list takes away the need to do all the mental juggling needed to keep up with your daily program, and frees the brain to deal with other issues.

Lists as "decision making aids" have been studied in people dealing with anxiety, dementia, depression, and/or schizophrenia. Physiologists have even studied list-making in terms of "allostasis," the ability to manage competing drives and appetites.

McGill University neuropsychology professor Daniel Levitin explains it this way in his book The Organized Mind:

"I think this is really important, that you write down all the things that you have to do, clear it out of your head so that you’re not using neuro resources with that little voice reminding you to pick up milk on the way home and to check to see if you paid the utility bill and that you have to call back Aunt Tilly because she left a voicemail and she’s going to worry and all this chatter – get it out of your head, write it down, then prioritize things."

Just remember to prioritize the most unpleasant task first, to get it out of the way. That way you won't worry about it any more once it's done, and you'll have extra brain power to go about and to enjoy the day.

Photo credit: By Bruce Turner from AustinTX (shopping list) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

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