Coping with Stress
When trouble approaches, what do you do? Run for the hills? Hide? Pretend it isn't there? Or do you focus on the promise of rain in those looming dark clouds?
New research suggests that the way you regulate your emotions, in bad times and in good, can influence whether -- or how much -- you suffer from anxiety. In short, if you use what is called "reappraisal" to look at stressful situations, you will tend to suffer less from social anxiety and less anxiety in general, even less than those who avoid expressing their feelings.
Reappraisal? It's a technique that involves looking at a problem in a new way, said University of Illinois graduate student Nicole Llewellyn, who led the research with psychology professor Florin Dolcos, an affiliate of the Beckman Institute at Illinois.
"When something happens, you think about it in a more positive light, a glass half full instead of half empty," Llewellyn said. "You sort of reframe and reappraise what's happened and think what are the positives about this? What are the ways I can look at this and think of it as a stimulating challenge rather than a problem?"
Remember, not all anxiety is bad, just as not all stress is bad. According to Llewellyn, "Low-level anxiety may help you maintain the kind of focus that gets things done."
"Research shows that people who are temperamentally inclined to focus on making good things happen are less likely to suffer from anxiety."
Previous studies had found that people who were temperamentally inclined to focus on making good things happen were less likely to suffer from anxiety than those who focused on preventing bad things from happening, Llewellyn said. But she could find no earlier research that explained how this difference in focus translated to behaviors that people could change. The new study appears to explain the strategies that contribute to a person having more or less anxiety, she said.
"This is something you can change," she said. "You can't do much to affect the genetic or environmental factors that contribute to anxiety. But you can change your emotion regulation strategies."
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Nicole Llewellyn, Florin Dolcos et al. Reappraisal and Suppression Mediate the Contribution of Regulatory Focus to Anxiety in Healthy Adults. Emotion, 2013 (in press)