Although avoiding your fears may be the easiest option, it’s also the most unhealthy. A new study from Penn State found that refusing to acknowledge uneasiness during a health scare can lead to a harmful cycle of emotional suppression.
The study surveyed groups of pregnant women living in areas of the U.S. affected by the Zika virus, which can cause serious birth defects. Researchers found that those who avoided their worries reported higher levels of fear later on, causing them to continuously suppress their emotions.
Professor James Dillard, one of the study’s authors, explained the flaws of that strategy, saying, “It turns out that not only is suppression ineffective at handling fear, but it’s counterproductive… it creates a cycle of fear.”
Aside from impacting emotional regulation, avoiding fears can also cause health problems due to an increase of stress and anxiety. “Stress hormones pour out, and staying in that hyper-vigilant state — fear — is also resource-intensive,” Dillard says.
Fortunately, with proper support and guidance, this response can be avoided all together. One way to resist spiraling into this cycle is by reaching out to a professional (instead of random Internet sources) to learn more about health concerns. Instead of denying your emotions, remind yourself that fear is a natural response, especially during health scares, and that you’re not alone.