Lee and her colleagues addressed this question by asking 233 participants to read through 12 negative scenarios, like breaking up with a significant other, finding an insect in their food or failing an exam. Half the participants then chose whether they would like to talk to either a funny friend who could distract them from the negative scenario, or an empathetic friend who could share their feelings. The other half chose whether they’d like to listen to a cheerful or sad song following the event.
In situations that dealt with interpersonal loss, the researchers found that people strongly preferred to speak with an empathetic friend or to listen to sad, mood-congruent music. Lee thinks the same would hold true of sad books, tear-jerking movies or moving works of art.
When friends are not around or are tired of talking about your breakup, cranking up a sad-song playlist might provide you with an equivalent sense of emotional sharing. This is not to say that songs or books should replace friends, however. “Being granted material, emotional and information support by them is essential to us,” Rimé says.
Timing Is Everything
But just because people are inclined to stew in sadness doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea. Ruminating too much on negative thoughts, researchers have found, is associated with higher rates of anxiety and depression. “Severe adverse events tend to invade the mental life of the person,” Rimé says. “A vicious cycle can easily develop.”
Timing may be key for walking the fine line between productive reflection and dangerous dwelling. Researchers writing in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research found that those who fixated on their sorry circumstances as well as those who only distracted themselves from their problems did not cope well on the long term. Instead, people who first distracted themselves from their negative feelings and then later addressed those feelings directly tended to cope best and also come up with superior solutions for their problems.
In real life, this may mean you can best get over an ex by hitting the bar or dance club with friends immediately following the breakup, and giving the situation a good hard think after you’ve had some time to cool off. It may be the safest way to avoid getting stuck in a state of perpetual wallowing—while still giving yourself a chance to indulge in some much-needed unburdening, trash talk and sappy music sing-alongs.
This post originally appeared on YouBeauty.com.
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