60-Second Mind

Pain Now Is Easier Than Pain Later

Delaying inevitable pain may not be the best route when it comes to decreasing your anxiety. Christie Nicholson reports

An upcoming dental appointment can be terrifying. So terrifying, in fact, that the fear of future pain can be a worse experience than the actual pain during the procedure. So finds a study in the journal PLoS Computational Biology.

Volunteers had to choose a date on which they would have hypothetical, painful dental work, and choose another date to get a real electric shock.

Most subjects strongly preferred to schedule the pain (real or theoretical) as soon as possible—they felt that the dread of waiting was just too much to endure. They did not want to wait even though they were told that the shocks would be less intense if they put them off.  

The minority of participants who did choose to delay their pain thought that doing so would reduce their immediate anxiety. Which is the same motivation for those who wanted to get the pain over with sooner.

However, the delaying group suffered increasing levels of anxiety as time wore on.

So, when you have the freedom to choose, the best strategy appears to be to rip off the band-aid, fast. Never dread til tomorrow what you can suffer through today.

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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