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.”