Expressing your fears takes their power away

It’s something therapists and writers have known for years, but now psychologists have confirmed that naming your fears stops them having so much power over you.

Giving a name to something, or expressing exactly how you feel, means you don’t have to deny the feeling or keep squashing it down. Sometimes the energy needed to keep it at bay is more painful and stressful than just talking about it anyway. Writers use that technique all the time: expressive or reflexive writing puts into words their feelings and stresses, and therefore externalises what’s going on inside and helps to process feelings and look at them objectively.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) did some tests on people who are afraid of spiders, asking some of them to approach a tarantula, and to experience and label their fears. For example, to say: “I’m anxious and frightened by the ugly, terrifying spider.” People who were able to express their fears were able to get closer to the tarantula, and had less of a stress reaction.

Michelle Craske, a professor of psychology at UCLA and the senior author of the study, said: “The implication is to encourage patients, as they are exposed to whatever they are fearful of, to label the emotional responses they are experiencing and label the characteristics of the stimuli — to verbalise their feelings. That lets people experience the very things they are afraid of and say: ‘I feel scared and I’m here.’ They’re not trying to push it away and say it’s not so bad.”

The crucial point is this: “Be in the moment and allow yourself to experience whatever you’re experiencing.”

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Tell the truth if you want to feel good about yourself

Telling porky pies is bad for your mental health and can make you feel miserable about yourself. Start telling the truth – and that means no little white lies, either – and your mind, body and spirit will thank you for it.

Taking off the mask and telling fewer lies boosts wellbeing. (pic: istockphoto.com/chuvipro)

The ‘Science of Honesty’ study carried out by researchers from Notre Dame University found that telling lies had more negative health effects on people and their relationships. In a 10-week study, participants who were told to tell fewer lies found they had fewer mental health issues, such as tension or melancholy, and fewer physical complaints such as sore throats and headaches. They also reported that their personal relationships and social interactions had improved.

“Recent evidence indicates that Americans average about 11 lies per week. We wanted to find out if living more honestly can actually cause better health,” said lead author Anita E. Kelly, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame. “We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health.”

I think these findings show the psychological pressure Continue reading

soul symbolism: my ‘being late for a flight’ dream

I hate this dream. It encapsulates everything that’s wrong with my life. I’m obsessive about time, fearful of being late, and I have to arrive an an airport well before check-in opens or I literally shake with anxiety.

So having this dream about having to pack my case quickly and run to the airport because the flight is going to leave truly feels like a punishing way to spend my sleep time.

My recurring dream about being late for a flight indicates there’s something pressing I’m not dealing with. (pic: istockphoto.com/ViktorCap)

The big issue is that I keep having this dream. And that means it’s trying to tell me something. I think this goes beyond being obsessed with time, which is something I’m conscious of. I know that time obsession is a thinly veiled death anxiety, as any existentialist will tell you.

No, I’m wondering what this stress dream is really trying to tell me. Carl Jung said: “The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul.” My job is to interpret what that dream means by trying to find the key to unlock the door to whatever secret my soul is trying to communicate with me.

In the one last night, Continue reading

Holidays boost creativity, says psychologist

As I sail to the end of my holiday, and reflect on just how productive I’ve been with my writing, thinking, creating and planning, I discover that holidays are brilliant for boosting creativity.

Writing in the August 2011 issue of The Psychologist, Christian Jarrett’s article Wish you were here? examines the psychology of holidays. He says that creativity can emerge when ‘unshackled from the constraints of work and stress’ – in spite of all the frustration that can occur when getting ready to go on holiday.

The only challenge is that this boost to creativity is only temporary, and the effect quickly fades once we return home and are swept back into the quotidian demands on our time in what’s called the ‘fade-out’ effect. Thankfully, however, scientists are working on how to extend that post-holiday glow.

I fully intend to extend mine once I get back home.