By Keely Savoie
Does the thought of flying make your palms clammy? How about starting a new job or speaking up in a meeting? Anxiety plagues as all in different ways, but new research from the University of California suggests that conquering fears could be as easy as naming them.
Researchers asked 88 people who were afraid of spiders to get close as they dared to a captive tarantula, touching it if they could. They were then divided into four groups. Group one was asked to verbalise their emotions, group two to describe the spider neutrally, group three to talk about something else entirely and group four to say nothing at all.
They were then asked to approach the tarantula again a week later. The results: “People who verbalised their emotions showed decreases in their physical fear response,” says study author Katharina Kircanski, PhD, now a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University.
They were able to get closer to the spider than the others and had significantly less hand sweat, which is a good measure of fear. Why? “When people get better at identifying what they are experiencing – positive or negative – it give them mental space to process their emotions, rather than be controlled by them,” explains anxiety expert Doug Mennin, PhD. Ready to tame your fears? Try these effective tricks.
1. Be completely present.
“Anxiety pulls you into a certain future,” Mennin says. The more aware you are of your senses and emotions in this moment, the less power anxiety will have over you.
2. Understand that knowledge is not destiny.
“Knowing what you feel is important, but doesn’t mean that those feelings are truth,” adds Mennin. Having a complete picture of your emotions gives you more power to act appropriately in any situation.
3. Give your fears a voice.
By simply naming your emotions you create space to feel them, removing the immediate impulse to act. The upshot? You feel calm, confident and in control.
4. Put a face on it.
Create characters to personalize and externalise your emotions, such as a yellow monster for anxiety. “By giving your emotions form and externalizing them, you can confront them without being overwhelmed,” Mennin explains.