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Verbally expressing your fear of spiders may lessen it, study shows.

Verbally expressing your fear of spiders may lessen it, study shows.

Whether they turn to family, friends or a licensed therapist, most people know the relief that can come with simply expressing their feelings to others. This piece of wisdom has been passed down between loved ones for generations, and now, it has been documented in a psychological study.

A team of psychologists at UCLA targeted a specific, yet surprisingly widespread fear to determine if voicing a feeling can actually help ease it. To do so, a UCLA press release states that the researchers divided 88 people with arachnophobia into four groups. Members from each section, apart from one that acted as a control, were instructed to articulate themselves in different ways before approaching a large tarantula.

One group was asked to follow a common psychological practice intended to diffuse an anxiety-inducing event by reframing it. Individuals were told to describe the situation in a bland manner that didn't accurately reflect their emotions. This meant describing the spider as small and harmless, or stating that it didn't make them nervous.

This falls in line with what psychology professor Michelle Craske described as the "typical procedures [for phobia treatment] in which the goal is to have people think differently about the experience – to change their emotional experience or change the way they think about it so that it doesn't make them anxious."

Another group was instructed to speak about a completely unrelated topic, as a means to alleviate anxiety through distraction.

By contrast, a final group was instructed to describe their fear frankly and honestly. So, rather than attempting to conceal their emotions or transform them, the subjects fully acknowledged their arachnophobia by stating how they viewed the spider as well as their response to it.

Ultimately, members that expressed themselves this way were able to get significantly closer to the tarantula than subjects from the other divisions, leading researchers to conclude that directly voicing their fears could help manage them.

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