How to Beat Bad News

There’s a lot of bad news out there, and sometimes it’s hard not to assume that the next flu pandemic, terrorist attack, or natural disaster is just around the corner. If remembering frightening, high-profile events makes you feel bad, APS Fellow David Barlow suggests that you confront your negative feelings head on.

Ten years after the September 11 attacks, Barlow said that ramped-up airport security and color-coded threat assessments from the Department of Homeland Security serve as constant reminders that something terrible could happen at any moment. The consequence, he says, has been an increase in anxiety among Americans.

Not everyone who gets worked up when they see reminders of September 11, 2001 (e.g., photographs of the attacks) meets the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. But everyone who has trouble remembering bad news can take a lesson from PTSD treatment. According to Barlow, the trick is to engage negative feelings instead of avoiding them.

“The best thing to do,” Barlow says, “is to go ahead and experience these images again… and remember what it was like. Talk about it with your loved ones or your friends.” It may seem counterintuitive, but reliving traumatic experiences in a controlled, nonthreatening way is a good way to control negative feelings.

Chorpita, B., & Barlow, D. (1998). The development of anxiety: The role of control in the early environment. Psychological Bulletin, 124 (1), 3-21 DOI: 10.1037//0033-2909.124.1.3

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