Suppressing negative emotions during a health scare may whip up spiral of fear

Attempts to suppress a health scare may create an interminable cycle of suppression and fear.

Suppressing negative emotions during a health scare may whip up spiral of fear
Negative emotions spiral.

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  • The study: Pregrant women in the U.S vulnerable to the Zika virus were assessed on their use of emotional regulation strategies.
  • The cycle: Fear suppression > higher fear than usual > more suppression 

"It turns out that not only is suppression ineffective at handling fear, but it's counter-productive," said James Dillard, distinguished professor of communication arts and sciences. "It creates a cycle of fear — and it's a vicious cycle."

  • Other counter-productive strategies people use to manage their fears are: avoidance, reappraisal, arguing against information.
  • Health problems caused by health scare anxiety are significant.

"When people become frightened there are some good things that can happen — they search out information, they get politically engaged, they might engage in self-protective behavior — but when people get really scared, it's harmful for them," said Dillard. "Stress hormones pour out and staying in that hyper-vigilant state — fear — is also resource intensive."

  • This study is uselful in helping researchers identify effective emotional regulation strategies when there is a health scare. Additionally, public health officials that are informed about the effects of fear and anxiety will be able to distribute accurate information that will help individuals manage their emotional response.

Study: Pennsylvania State University