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Rachel White

Assistant Professor of Psychology Rachel White recently published a paper on a method for adaptively coping with anxiety in the American Psychological Association journal Emotion.

Focusing on the future from afar: Self-distancing from future stressors facilitates adaptive coping” was written with colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Pennsylvania; and the University of Michigan.

White explained that self-distancing is “the ability to mentally step back from our egocentric point of view — from our thoughts and feelings — and see our own experiences as if they were happening to someone else. We can do this visually by imagining that we see these experiences from an outsider’s point of view; some people like to think of this as a ‘fly on the wall’ perspective.”

Knowing, based on previous research, that visual self-distancing enhances adaptive self-reflection about negative past events, White and her fellow researchers examined whether self-distancing is similarly useful when people reflect on anxiety-provoking future negative experiences.

They found that how vividly participants imagined a future anxiety-provoking event affected the level of anxiety it evoked.

“Thus, the current studies extend previous research on the benefits of self-distancing to future stressors. In addition, they highlight a novel mechanism for this relation: imagery vividness,” the researchers concluded.

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