Mental Simulation can facilitate coping responses to stress
Several studies have demonstrated that putting stressful events into words, by talking about them or writing about them, can help people deal with them and can lead to better health and well-being.
Building upon these findings, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently explored the role of mental simulation. They predicted that visualizing a stressful event and the emotions surrounding it (i.e., mental simulation) would result in an increase in the use of both problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies. Problem-focused coping involves confronting stressful events directly, and emotion-focused coping involves regulating the emotions aroused by stressful events.
The participants in this study identified an ongoing stressful event in their lives and completed a variety of questionnaires at the beginning and end of the study. Compared to participants in other groups in the study, the participants who visualized a stressful event and the emotions surrounding it were happier and used more problem- and emotion-focused coping.
The benefits of mental simulation appear to be limited, however, to ongoing stressful events that people have some control over and traumatic events that take place in the past.
Source: Rivkin, I. D., & Taylor, S. E. (1999). The effects of mental simulation on coping with controllable stressful events. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 1451-1462.