The term “emotion regulation” describes the approach used by individuals to deal with their emotional experiences in an endeavor to improve their overall well-being. People consciously or unconsciously use a variety of strategies to cope with situations every day. Healthy coping strategies, like managing work-related stress by maintaining a balance between home and work, exercising, meditating, or indulging in a stress-busting activity help in regulating emotions effectively. On the other hand, unhealthy coping strategies, like abusing substances to get rid of depressive episodes may only aggravate the negative emotions. As a result, it becomes extremely important to build on effective coping mechanisms and strategies that can enhance the process of emotion regulation.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo (UB) have undertaken a study to categorize and understand various strategies used by people in managing their negative emotions. The findings may aid researchers and health care providers to provide better treatment for a variety of mental health and substance abuse issues, including mood and anxiety disorders. This can be achieved by streamlining strategies and equipping people to manage their emotions constructively.
The study appeared in the journal Psychological Bulletin in April 2017. It found that various strategies used by individuals for emotion regulation fall into three main groupings:
- Attempts to evade emotions through distraction and avoidance strategies. People try to feel better by avoiding their own negative feelings and emotions.
- Preoccupation with negative thoughts, especially failure and self-blame. There is a continuous focus on harmful thoughts and feelings, and people suffer due to endless pondering about distressful situations.
- Acceptance of the problem and making conscious efforts to solve it.
Strategies such as acceptance and problem-solving found in the third grouping generally yield better results and are useful under several circumstances.
Emotion regulation key to identifying other abilities in patients
Kristin Naragon-Gainey, assistant professor in UB’s department of psychology, says that although there are different urges due to which individuals abuse substances, a common factor is that they are means to regulate emotions. She adds that if a psychotherapist can nudge patients dependent on drugs or alcohol to somehow change their emotions, the lack of other abilities in such individuals may be identified using this research.
The research team reviewed a large number of previous studies that showed connections between different emotion regulation strategies in order to understand their interrelationships. The team explained that individuals have a tendency to use several strategies concurrently. If one strategy does not yield results, it is replaced by another one. However, there is still no clarity on the level of distinctiveness among these strategies.
The researchers wanted to evaluate if various strategies discovered in the large number of studies were capable of being synthesized into a simpler form so that they could be applied in a rationalized method to the study of mental disorders. However, a high level of correlation was not found among the strategies to make them seem redundant, and even where a correlation existed, the application of strategies in regulating emotions differed among individuals.
Daily monitoring of people’s emotions is desirable
Naragon-Gainey is hopeful of taking the research further by asking participants to monitor their emotions every day. The usual practice has been for researchers studying emotion regulation to evaluate emotions after lengthy intervals at times. Although it is a convenient method, perfect recollection of emotions at a point of time in the past is impossible. Sending daily questions to people will provide more clarity on the application of the research in their day-to-day lives and increase confidence among the researchers that they are on the right path.
The study’s findings can benefit doctors and health care providers to effectively characterize the nature of difficulties faced by patients in regulating their emotions. Since it is difficult to evaluate every strategy, it may now be possible to focus on a core underlying grouping rather than a larger grouping of issues.
Mental disorders need timely intervention
Mental health should be treated at par with physical health. People suffering from mental illnesses often suffer in silence fearing ridicule from the society if they open up about their problems. Families and friends should encourage such people to seek medical help before matters go out of hand.
If you or a loved one is suffering from any kind of mental health disorders, contact the California Mental Health Helpline for guidance on available options in mental health treatment in California. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923 or chat online with our experts to get advice on the best mental health facilities in California.