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Researchers Suggest Better Way To Deal With Bad Memories

Update Date: Apr 19, 2014 01:59 PM EDT

Almost everyone has worst memories. We all tend to differ in how we manage them. However, a little advice from experts is alway a bonus. 

When negative memories creep up, thinking about the context of the memories rather than feeling is a relatively easy way to alleviate the negative effects of worst memories, according to a new study. 

Researchers studied the behavioral and neural mechanism of focusing away from emotion during recollection of personal emotional memories and discovered that contextual elements of the memories remarkably lowered people's emotional impact. 

"Sometimes we dwell on how sad, embarrassed, or hurt we felt during an event, and that makes us feel worse and worse. This is what happens in clinical depression-ruminating on the negative aspects of a memory," said psychology professor Florin Dolcos of the Cognitive Neuroscience Group, in the press release. 

"But we found that instead of thinking about your emotions during a negative memory, looking away from the worst emotions and thinking about the context, like a friend who was there, what the weather was like, or anything else non-emotional that was part of the memory, will rather effortlessly take your mind away from the unwanted emotions associated with that memory. Once you immerse yourself in other details, your mind will wander to something else entirely, and you won't be focused on the negative emotions as much."

According to study, the simplest strategy is promising alternative to other emotion-regulation strategies, like suppression or reappraisal. 

Suppression is bottling up your emotions, trying to put them away in a box. This is a strategy that can be effective in the short term, but in the long run, it increases anxiety and depression," explained Sanda Dolcos, co-author on the study and postdoctoral research associate at the Beckman Institute and in the Department of Psychology. 

"Another otherwise effective emotion regulation strategy, reappraisal, or looking at the situation differently to see the glass half full, can be cognitively demanding. The strategy of focusing on non-emotional contextual details of a memory, on the other hand, is as simple as shifting the focus in the mental movie of your memories and then letting your mind wander."

The results were published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

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