Sunday, February 9, 2014

What makes emotion regulation successful?

I am conducting some research to better understand the tactics people use when attempting to regulate their emotions. We expect that there are subtle differences in the approaches people take. Perhaps it is these differences that lead some people to be successful and others not to be. Ultimately, these slight differences in approach may lead some people to thrive in the face of negative situations and others to suffer.

Although we are still far away from understanding what ways may be best, we can see, just with a glance, that that there are a range of tactics people use to improve their emotions. I will describe two that I find particularly interesting.

1. Up regulating positive emotions:
Given the positive flavor of lifenik.com (games for a better life), it might not surprise you that this tactic is my personal favorite. Up regulating positive emotions refers to one's attempt to reframe the situation they are in to see it more positively. For example, one could see the situation as a blessing in disguise or appreciate the hardship as an opportunity for growth. Some evidence supports the idea that this tactic may be particularly effective 1.

2. Experiential avoidance:
Rather than changing the way we think about they situation, we can engage in behaviors that we hope will do the emotion regulation for us. For example, I might drink a glass of wine when I am feeling stressed at the end of a long day or I may buy a new pair of shoes to cheer my up after a disappointment. The effectiveness of this tactic may depend on exactly what behavior is used or it may not. We don't really know. However, I would expect that exercising to regulate emotion would likely be a better choice than eating a giant cake.

I'll go into more tactics another day. For now, try to pay attention to the tactics you use to regulate your emotions. Do they seem, on the surface, like they should be effective? Do specific tactics work better for you? Do you find yourself relying on an emotion regulation tactic that makes you feel worse? Pay attention to the tactics you use to better understand how you approach your own emotions and why you are (or are not) successful at regulating your emotions.



References:
1McRae, K., Ciesielski, B., & Gross, J. J. (2012). Unpacking cognitive reappraisal: Goals, tactics, and outcomes. Emotion, 12, 250-255. doi: 10.1037/a0026351

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