to do list

If you’ve ever felt just a smidge more accomplished after crossing something off your to-do list, or if the simple fact of creating a to-do list calms your thoughts, you know the stress-reducing powers of a good list. These powers aren’t just in your head either. Research shows that to-do lists with actionable items help to reduce stress and anxiety. In addition to reducing stress in the short term, some studies suggest that lists also have long-term, positive effects on psychological and physical well-being. Whether you’re on board with list-making or you need some convincing, you may be interested in these few notable benefits.

Lists Can Reduce Stress

The problem in today’s society is that there is always something that needs to be done. From emails you need to send to doctor’s appointments you need to make to books you plan to read, the never-ending list of stuff that demands your attention can create stress in your subconscious.  

To add insult to injury, your brain goes into overdrive trying to keep up with it all. Even if your conscience acknowledges that you cannot do everything in one day, your brain will attempt to create and hold onto a mental to-do, thereby causing stress regardless. When you sit down, grab a pen and jot down a list, however, you do your brain a huge favor by offloading the chore of trying to remember everything onto the paper, hence why the act of making a list feels like an accomplishment in and of itself.

Lists Give You a Sense of Control

While it’s important to view the items on your lists as goals rather than chores, you should keep them manageable. Doing so can give your brain the sense of control it so desperately craves.

For instance, say you want to spring clean your home. Don’t put “spring clean” on your list. Doing so will only freak your brain out. Rather, list out the steps that will help you accomplish the overall goal. Bite-sized tasks such as “clear out the junk drawer” and “clean the windows” are much less intimidating than the overall objective. They also serve as a sort of “how-to” for your brain.

“How do you go about spring cleaning?” your brain asks. “Simple,” your list says, “complete these tasks one by one and you’ll achieve the overall objective.” A sense of control is essential for living a stress-free life, and few things put you in the driver’s seat better than step-by-step instructions.

Lists Help You Sleep Better At Night

One of the most common causes of insomnia is stress over unfinished tasks or upcoming responsibilities. If you are one of the millions of Americans who tosses and turns each night because you can’t stop thinking about everything you either didn’t accomplish or have yet to do, take a few moments before bed to make a list. Findings from one study show that writing down just 10 to-dos before bed can help you fall asleep 15 minutes faster than had you attempted to keep a mental list. Quality sleep is also crucial for reducing stress, making list-making a doubly powerful stress-reduction technique.

Lists Help You Find More “Me Time”  

Me-time is crucial to your overall mental and physical well-being. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find me time when, during your downtime, you’re thinking about what comes next. Lists let you maximize whatever found time you get. Instead of using your found time to wrack your brain for what you need to buy, who you need to call, or what you need to, you can use it to catch up on your reading, phone a friend or simply sit and enjoy the few quiet moments you have.

Lists are powerful stress-reduction tools. When you use them correctly, they can go a long way toward easing your anxiety and putting you back in the driver’s seat of the vehicle that is your life.