Emotional Resilience Blog from The Fear Course

The latest research, realisations and thinking in the world of emotional resilience, anxiety and fear reduction from around the world.

Does 'venting' anger actually help? The research.

Does 'venting' anger actually help? The research.

There is a common belief that as far as emotions are concerned, it is better for us to let it all out, rather than keeping it bottled up inside. The 'better out than in' philosophy of emotion regulation pervades many areas of therapy as well as common understanding. But is it true of every emotion, and in particular is it true of anger?
The idea of 'letting it all out' goes back at least as far as the ancient greeks with what they called catharsis. Catharsis, or a cathartic release means letting it all out and is considered to be therapeutic by many people. The modern idea of catharsis comes from the Greek word katharsis, which literally translated means a cleansing or purging. According to catharsis theory, acting aggressively or even viewing aggression is an effective way to purge angry and aggressive feelings.

Many books and self-help gurus suggest that people vent their anger either as it arises or vent their anger by punching pillows or some other inanimate object to rid themselves of the emotion as well as the negative effects (stress) of the emotion. The question is, does venting really help with emotions like anger?

Brad Bushman from Iowa state university conducted a series of research studies where he looked at this very issue. He looked at 600 people (300 men and 300 women) in whom he provoked anger by getting another participant to unfairly criticise some work they had done. They finished the wholly negative evaluation of their work by saying "this is the worst (piece of work) I have ever seen"!

After reading the evaluation, the participants rated how much they wanted to perform each of 10 activities on a list. Included in this list of activities was "hitting a punching bag." Other activities were relatively passive, included playing solitaire, reading a short story, watching a comedy, and playing a computer game. Ratings were made on a 10-point scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 10 (extremely).

One third of the subjects where then allowed to punch a punch bag (and if they wanted, see a picture of the person who had criticised their work so unfairly), one third were distracted and one third did nothing.

In short the participants who were allowed to vent their anger actually became significantly angrier and more aggressive than the people who were either distracted or did nothing.

There are largely two different strategies people use when they get angry. They either turn the issue or person they are angry about over and over in their heads, thinking about it and feeling the emotions, or they distract themselves with something else. Bushman found that people who tended to ruminate or pick over the issue and think about the other person also got angrier as time went on compared to those who were given a distraction or even those who were given nothing to do.

Considering that the definition of emotional resilience is the ability to be able to bounce back to a productive emotional state as quickly as possible, rumination and venting, at least as far as anger is concerned, are not helpful strategies. You are far better distracting yourself and getting on with something else. Churning stuff over and over only makes the situation worse. 

I will talk a bit more about the effects of rumination on other emotions like anxiety and depression in my next blog.

Reference

Bushman, B.J. (2002) Does Venting Anger Feed or Extinguish the Flame? Catharsis, Rumination, Distraction, Anger, and Aggressive Responding. Pers Soc Psychol Bull June 2002 vol. 28 no. 6 724-731 doi: 10.1177/0146167202289002

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Why your goals decide whether you are calm and confident or anxious and/or depressed.

Why your goals decide whether you are calm and confident or anxious and/or depressed.

As you will notice from my previous couple of blogs here, here and here, goals are considered to be pretty important in the management and removal of anxiety, fear, depression and also in increasing confidence. In today's blog I want to have a look at the role of goals in anxiety reduction and how to use them to positive effect.

So why are goals so important when people have problems like anxiety, fear and depression?

One of the things you may have noticed if you have have suffered from high levels of anxiety or any level of depression is that largely ones goals disappear during an anxiety or depressive based episode. A lot of research has focussed on this phenomenon. Largely the findings of these studies have found that this loss of goal based focus contributes to and exacerbates the issue for the sufferer. The reason why a loss of goal based behaviour is such a big problem for suffered of anxiety and depression is that goal based focus tends to be existential. So if you are focussed on a project or task you are not focussed on internal feelings. Conversely if your focus and goals disappear then your world contracts to the internal, just at a time when the internal world is full of negative emotions and thought. This then is the start of the depressive or anxiety based spiral.

How can goals help?

Most therapies for anxiety and depression will include the incremental development of some form of goal-setting and action to help alleviate the disorder, basically the idea is to move the focus from internal emotions to external action, and provide meaningful activity. As the focus on goal based action increases the symptoms of anxiety and depression tend to decrease. There is ample research based evidence to underpin this assertion and as a result such strategies usually form some part at least in the management and alleviation of these disorders.

Will any goal do?

However as you will notice from previous blogs, not all goals are equal in helping, and indeed some goal based strategies can actually make the situation worse. Goals which increase personal and social competition, for example, can for some personality types, exacerbate anxiety and lead to depression. Goals which increase altruism and compassion for others generally have been shown to reduce anxiety, however there are exceptions to this.

As a general rule of thumb, any goal which gets you focussing on outside action will help, as long as it is not self-referential and competitive, or focussing on the negative affect of others, particularly in the area in which you are having problems. So if you are suffering from grief for example, helping other people who are grieving, could make your situation worse.

Find something something you are interested in and then find a way to help others in that thing. Set some goals around it so that you will get a sense of achievement when you are finished. The ideal is to set a big goal that is out of reach, then break it down into a series of smaller goals each of which is a step towards the big goal you have. Take it one step at a time. And remember anything is better than nothing.   

References

Ableson, J.L. etal (2014) Brief cognitive intervention can modulate neuroendocrine stress responses to the Trier Social Stress Test: Buffering effects of a compassionate goal orientation. Psychoneuroendocrinology Volume 44, June 2014, Pages 60–70

Alpers, G.W. (2010) Avoiding treatment failures in specific phobias in M.W. Otto, S.G. Hofmann (Eds.), Avoiding Treatment Failures in the Anxiety Disorders, Springer, New York, NY (2010), pp. 209–227

Craske et al., (2009) What is an anxiety disorder Depression and Anxiety, 26 (2009), pp. 1066–1085 http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/da.20633

Kashdan et al., (2008) Social anxiety and disinhibition: an analysis of curiosity and social rank appraisals, approach-avoidance conflicts, and disruptive risk-taking behaviour Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 22 (2008), pp. 925–939 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2007.09.009

Pittig, A. et al (2014) The cost of fear: Avoidant decision making in a spider gambling task. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. March 2014, Vol. 28. Pp 326-334

Shidlovski, D., & Hassin, R. (2011). When Pooping Babies Become More Appealing: The Effects of Nonconscious Goal Pursuit on Experienced Emotions Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797611417135 - See more at: http://www.fearcourse.com/?p=315&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=235#sthash.sKZoN2sf.dpufhttp://www.fearcourse.com/?p=315&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=235

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If you are avoiding doing something does setting a goal really help?

If you are avoiding doing something does setting a goal really help?

Are you avoiding doing something? Do you have a goal that you are not really moving on? Anxiety is more than likely the main reason why you are not achieving your goals, but does goal setting actually help?

One of the main criteria for the diagnosis of anxiety and anxiety related disorders is avoidance. Not only does anxiety and fear create the conditions where we avoid the thing we are anxious about but that avoidance is also part of the process of worsening the anxiety and keeping it at the heightened sensitivity levels that it tends to reach.

One of the problems with anxiety based avoidance, like a fear of failure for example, is that the individual often creates a psudo-logical rationale to explain and maintain the avoidance often whilst at the same time understanding that the fear is irrational.

What this means is that we can have (at least) two opposing rationales working at the same time. The psudo-rationale which explains why the fear exists and in effect validates the fear and the cognitive logical rationale which understands that the anxiety is irrational. At the same time we have a couple of systems, both the cognitive (thinking) and the emotional (pathological) which are driving the avoidance feelings and behaviour.

So what has this got to do with setting goals? Well we can set quite logical and rationale goals and even feel motivated to achieve them, however these intentions can be undermined by both conscious and unconscious anxiety based avoidance behaviour.

A number of recent studies in this area have focussed on the role of reward (and loss) in the achievement of goals, particularly in an environment where anxiety based avoidance is prevalent.

In effect the decision to actually pursue a goal involves a series of factors including:

  • the value or the importance of the goal relative to other goals and activities currently in action,
  • the level of anxiety based avoidance being experienced, either consciously or unconsciously, and
  • the worth to the individual of the reward likely to be obtained from achievement of the goal, and
  • the likelihood or probability of that reward being realised.

Now when you think about it, this whole scenario is about decision making. Do I decide to pursue this line of action or that? For example, do I write that report I keep meaning to write or just check Facebook first? They are all decisions. Unfortunately anxiety can significantly sway our decisions.

A study published this month looks at the issue of anxiety based avoidance versus reward in goal setting. What they found was that not only was anxiety based avoidance a strong and persistent factor in failure to achieve goals, people with such anxiety based avoidance made decisions that limited their success and gave them less advantageous outcomes in the long run, especially when compared to people without anxiety. What they found was that people who suffer from anxiety based avoidance tend to also to suffer from greater long-term costs and lower rewards than those without anxiety.

However there is some good news. The study found that repeated exposure to the decision making process inherent in focussing on a goal did slowly improve matters.

So if you want to write a book, for example and you keep putting it off, keeping the goal in mind and regularly and frequently facing that goal and most importantly having to keep making the decision to take action or not, should (eventually) help to break down the barriers to action.

The moral of this is keep your goals alive, keep facing them and eventually you will make more advantageous decisions. Either that or visit the Fear Course - it's much quicker!

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References

Alpers, G.W. (2010) Avoiding treatment failures in specific phobias in M.W. Otto, S.G. Hofmann (Eds.), Avoiding Treatment Failures in the Anxiety Disorders, Springer, New York, NY (2010), pp. 209–227

Craske et al., (2009) What is an anxiety disorder Depression and Anxiety, 26 (2009), pp. 1066–1085 http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/da.20633

Kashdan et al., (2008) Social anxiety and disinhibition: an analysis of curiosity and social rank appraisals, approach-avoidance conflicts, and disruptive risk-taking behaviour Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 22 (2008), pp. 925–939 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2007.09.009

Pittig, A. et al (2014) The cost of fear: Avoidant decision making in a spider gambling task. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. March 2014, Vol. 28. Pp 326-334

 

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Having a goal can help stress and anxiety, but....

Having a goal can help stress and anxiety, but....

One of the areas researchers are examining in more detail at the moment in the area of anxiety, fear and stress management is that of the role of goals. There is a growing body of evidence that our goals, what we want to achieve and work towards, has a direct and lasting effect on our levels of anxiety and stress. Over the next few posts I will look at some of the latest research evidence about how changing your goals can make a marked impact on your levels of anxiety, fear, stress and even depression.

The first study I will look at was conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry, Seattle Pacific University, and Ohio State University.
This is a rather interesting neurological study looking at the pathway and process ( hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis) that produces cortisol, the stress hormone.

(For more information about cortisol and it's role with stress, anxiety and fear see my article here http://www.fearcourse.com/Th-link-between-anxiety-stress-and-cortisol.html).

As I mentioned, there is a growing body of research which is showing that having goals and a focus helps the alleviate stress, anxiety and even depression.

This study (to be published in June) looked at the ability of two different types of goal to reduce stress (cortisol levels) in 54 subjects.
The subjects had their cortisol levels tested before and after a stress induction process and then again after setting and working towards one of two different types of goal, or not working towards any goal (control group).
The first type of goal was for the subjects to promote themselves and do better than the other subjects in a series of tasks (a competitive self-serving goal).
The second goal was to help the other people (a compassionate, altruistic goal).

The cortisol/stress levels of the control group who didn't have any goal to work towards remained high after the stress induction and did not reduce.
The subjects who worked towards the competitive and self-serving goals actually saw their stress/cortisol levels increase.
However the subjects who were working on compassionate goals of helping someone else, saw significant drops in stress and cortisol levels.

Interestingly, the researchers then got the subjects who were following the competitive, self-serving goal to switch to a compassionate, altruistic goal, their increased stress levels went into reverse and fell significantly. The other subjects were asked to switch goals from their compassionate goal to a more competitive, self-serving goal and they had significant increases in stress.

So if you want to help yourself to reduce stress, help someone else. Helping yourself and competing against others just increases stress.

Do you listen to podcasts? I have just started a weekly podcast called David Wilkinson's Calm, composed & confident. It has a weekly round up of anxiety busting tips, the latest research, tools and techniques.

The podcast is free and available here via iTunes.

 

Reference
Ableson, J.L. etal (2014) Brief cognitive intervention can modulate neuroendocrine stress responses to the Trier Social Stress Test: Buffering effects of a compassionate goal orientation. Psychoneuroendocrinology Volume 44, June 2014, Pages 60–70

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The Key to a Happy Marriage lies ... with the wife.

The Key to a Happy Marriage lies ... with the wife.

One of the factors which helps us have successful interpersonal and social relationships is the ability to regulate our own emotions. For example if someone we like does something we don't like quite often we will just gloss over the incident. The same applies, but in a slightly different way, if the boss does something we don't like, we might mutter about it but we 'bite our tongue' and get on with it. If however we have reached the end of our tether we might just let it all go and have an angry outburst. There are some obvious career limiting aspects about this last option.


In a study just published in the journal Emotion, researchers from Stanford University found that the secret to martial satisfaction lay in the ability of the couple to be able to recover effectively and quickly from conflict or "hot button" incidents. The quicker and more fully the couple are able to recover from such incidents, and not hold on to them, the greater the levels of satisfaction the couple tend feel about the relationship.

However the research goes further.

They discovered that the key to a satisfying relationship lies with the wife. If the wife is able to up-regulate positive emotions and down-regulate negative emotions (see this article for an explanation of up and down regulation) then there is a much higher chance of the relationship being happier. The researchers found that wives who calmed down quickly also tended to be able to employ constructive communication strategies. Such strategies include behaviours like clearly expressing her feelings and suggesting solutions and compromises to the problem at hand. This contrasts with destructive communication strategies, such as criticizing, blaming and holding on to hurt. Constructive communication is more likely to result in conflict resolution, thereby positively impacting marital satisfaction.

Why exactly it is the wife that holds the key to the emotional health of the relationship is open to speculation.

The point for me is that if both members of the marriage work together to actively deal with conflicts, as opposed to blaming, criticising or just avoiding the issue, both are likely to have a happier and more satisfying relationship.

It would appear, for whatever reason, a calm wife equals a calm marriage which in turn is more likely to equal a satisfying marriage. 

 

Reference

Bloch, L., Haase, C. M., & Levenson, R. W. (2014) Emotion regulation predicts marital satisfaction: More than a wives' tale. Emotion, Vol 14(1), Feb 2014, 130-144. doi: 10.1037/a0034272

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Feeling low? It could be your social media friends...or the weather... or you!

Feeling low? It could be your social media friends...or the weather... or you!

Are you having a good day? Share it! Having a bad day? Keep it to yourself!

An interesting study published last week by a team of researchers from The University of California, San Diago, Yale and Facebook have found that a phenomenon I am currently writing about in my next book, emotional contagion, or how we catch emotions from each other, is present in social networks like twitter and Facebook. 
This paper has been quite widely reported in a number of news networks in the last few days, however there are some other findings that were not reported.

The main finding you may have read about, is that if someone in your online social network expresses a negative or a positive emotion we are likely to be influenced by that emotion. So say one of your Facebook friends days she is feeling depressed today, this is quite likely to have a negative effect on the other people in her network. This is called emotional contagion. We catch other peoples emotions.

What has not been reported as widely however, when you read the actual paper, is that this effect works for both negative and positive emotions. So happy people spread happiness and miserable people spread misery. Emotional contagion is a well documented phenomenon and I am not surprised to find it happening across social networks. However another finding from this paper is a little more interesting. If a thread starts on a negative, say someone in your network posts a message that they are not happy and this feeling effects other people and messages of sympathy start to build one positive post in the thread can stop the contagion and even turn it around. The opposite was also found. If there is a positive wave of emotion being expressed between friends one negative post can often stop the positive emotions dead in their tracks. 
This then, gives us the possibility to turn around and control the wave of emotion contagion.

A third and lesser finding was a fairly direct correlation with rain and chance of negative emotions being expressed and therefore caught even in places it isn’t raining!

There was one side effect happening I noticed in the data. The study was done across 100 US cities and I also noticed that people in New York City appeared to be influenced more negatively by rain than people in almost any other city. They also tended to be more vocal about it and affected, in turn, negatively, more people! 

Oh and to end on a positive, the researchers found a trend (not significant and therefore could be due to chance) that positive emotions tend to spread further.

Have a good day. :-)

Reference:

Coviello L, Sohn Y, Kramer ADI, Marlow C, Franceschetti M, et al. (2014) Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks. PLoS ONE 9(3): e90315. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0090315What's your social media poison? Facebook, Twitter, Pinetrest? A study published

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Flight MH370; Fear, Anxiety and uncertainty

Flight MH370; Fear, Anxiety and uncertainty

Its a week since flight MH370 disappeared on it's night time flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and the grief of relatives has turned to a mixture of grief, fear and anxiety as new facts emerge about the strange movements of the flight that night and the revelation that the aircraft's transponder appears to have been manually turned off, coupled with the mystery about the two passengers who boarded the plane using stolen passports. As the situation unfolds the poor relatives are left with confusing, conflicting and ambiguous reports and a heavy uncertainty prevails about the fate of their loved ones.

As human beings, we have a natural tendency to want certainty, particularly in stressful situations. Not knowing and ambiguity adds to the stress and increases fear and anxiety. The ambiguity of this situation is undoubtedly making the situation worse for the relatives as grief and fear swings to hope as the possibility of a hijack appears to be back on the agenda again, which in turn leads to anxiety.

Uncertainty and ambiguity makes fear and anxiety worse. It leaves us without control. The lack of control means that there are few if any actions we can take to make the situation better or at least distract us from the grief, at least temporarily. As an ex-police officer I have seen this occur on many occasions where we were searching for a missing child and the parents have had to stay at home in case the child returned and also to keep the emotion out of the search procedures. The effect on the poor parents, having little control and awash with the emotions of fear, anxiety and grief and nothing to do that can at least distract them and give the feeling they are at least doing something is terrible.

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Research into the blindingly obvious...

Research into the blindingly obvious...

I get a lot of research about anxiety, emotion regulation and emotional resilience across my desk on a daily basis. Much of it is pretty specialist about specific neurochemicals or the effects of certain constituents of drugs on a particular symptom for example. Some of it is truly useful to my clients in a practical way and some of it like the last blog on Chocolate is just interesting. Now and then however you find a paper or a report of a paper that makes you shake your head and wonder why they bothered.

In a paper published today, entitled 'A person-by-situation approach to emotion regulation' researchers found that in certain contexts using of the skills of emotion regulation might actually be harmful.

The example one of the researchers uses is "...for someone experiencing trouble at work because of poor performance, for example, reappraisal might not be so adaptive. Reframing the situation to make it seem less negative may make that person less inclined to attempt to change the situation."

Basically what this is saying that if you use (misuse I would say) your emotion regulation skills to feel better about something you can and should be changing like being late for work, it could be psychologically harmful! Oh really? Yup using one of your skills to feel better about being late for work is quite likely to get you fired.

As I say on the Fear Course with a couple of the more powerful techniques I teach. Be sensible about what fears you kill with this technique. For example if you have a fear of standing on the edge of crumbling cliff tops, it might well be wise to allow that fear to remain.

As the researchers point out. Context is important. No sh*t Sherlock.

To be fair one of the researchers does point out "Adaptive emotion regulation likely involves the ability to use a wide variety of strategies in different contexts, rather than relying on just one strategy in all contexts."

Likely?? Pretty certain I would say. Having one technique for dealing with your emotions is like trying to refloat the titanic with the aid of a small sponge. 

Which is why we teach a whole tool kit of strategies and techniques to deal with fear and anxiety and increase confidence along with the tools required to make the decision about when to use them. 

Reference
Troy, A.S. Et Al (2013) A Person-by-Situation Approach to Emotion Regulation: Cognitive Reappraisal Can Either Help or Hurt, Depending on the Context. Psychological Science October 2013.

  

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Does chocolate really affect our mood? New research

Does chocolate really affect our mood? New research

There are a few foods which are considered to be uppers or mood enhancers. Chillies, bananas and of course chocolate for example. As for the latter there have been lots of claims for chocolate over the years and one of them has been a fairly consistent claim that chocolate has a positive impact on mood. Most of the claims have been fairly anecdotal and what little research has been done is either very small scale or have been fairly ropey first publications by students.

However the first systematic review of all of the current high quality research has been published today. In an article titled 'Effects of chocolate on cognitive function and mood: a systematic review' researchers from the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology, in Melbourne Australia and Keel University in the UK have gone through the scientific evidence to find out if there is any really any substance behind the claims.

Firstly they could only find eight scientific, valid and reliable studies of the effect of chocolate, or more properly cocoa flavanols, cocoa polyphenols and methylxanthine, on mood. By any measure 8 studies isn't exactly a lot!

Anyway, when they reviewed these studies they found that five of the studies found clear evidence of either an improvement in mood or a reduction of a negative mood after the consumption of chocolate. Two studies couldn't find any effect and the last one was inconclusive.

Most poeple will take 5 out of 8 as a result!

The question then turns to whether the mood elevation properties of chocolate is actually down to something that actually happens in the brain or it is what scientists call an orosensory effect. In other words does chocolate or something in the chocolate change the brain or it's chemicals in some way or is it a psychological effect based on the taste, smell and texture of the chocolate, probably linked to memories of our youth?

At the moment the research is unclear about what is causing the effect however two studies (oddly the ones that reported no behavioural affect) found an acute change in brain functioning following the consumption of cocoa polyphenols.

Reading between the lines it would appear that it is likely that chocolate or more properly a mixture of cocoa and sugar does have a mood elevation effect and can even help elevate your mood when it is 'down'. to some extent. It also is likely that it is both the association of the feeling we have when eating chocolate (taste, texture and smell) and active ingredients in the sugar and cocoa that bring about a sense of mood elevation. This effect may then amplified bythe orosensory effects of actually eating the chocolate. 

There is no evidence yet of how long these effects last or whether it has a compound effect, i.e. the more chocolate you eat the better you feel. More research needs to be done on this.

As to whether chocolate can be used as part of an emotion regulation strategy...  You might like to run some of your own experiments! Let me know what you find.

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Reference
Scholey, A. & Owen, L. (2013) Effects of chocolate on cognitive function and mood: a systematic review. Nutrition Reviews Volume 71, Issue 10, pages 665–681, October 2013

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When you think about it, you don't think about it. Until…

When you think about it, you don't think about it. Until…

When you think about it to successfully navigate day-to-day relationships at home and at work, we have to have pretty effective emotion regulation strategies. Imagine what would happen if we didn't regulate our emotions continually. Every minor annoyance, frustration and fancy would have us reacting in ways that would be completely socially unacceptable. We would become victims of our emotions, acting on the almost moment by moment variations in emotion we have have during the day.

From the moment we wake up, we regulate the swathe of emotions often without even being aware of it. Just going to work in the morning is a triumph of emotion regulation. The alarm goes off, I am sure there are likely to be other things you would rather be doing than getting up and going to work. The tooth paste has run out or you don't have time for breakfast when you would probably rather putting your feet up, reading the paper and having a leisurely breakfast.
Driving or taking public transport, again is an assault course of emotional obstacles. Even seeing something you fancy like a bar of chocolate or an attractive stranger and deciding not to just take them is another success of emotion regulation. It's an almost minute by minute task, and we rarely notice it happening.
Most of us are regulating our emotions continually, without thought and without effort.
For a short period today, just notice how much you are successfully and automatically regulating your emotions. You might be amazed.

The problem comes when our emotions move out of the everyday sphere of automatic regulatory control and they themselves take control of our behaviour on a more regular basis. When anxiety or anger for instance, expands across a boundary to become a feature rather than a background and unnoticed emotion, to start affecting our lives and often the lives of others then things can start to go wrong.

In the next series of blogs I will have a look at what happens when our emotions come to prominence and take hold. I will look at the six base emotions of Fear (obviously), Anger, Sadness, Hurt, Guilt and Attachment.

 

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Fear of failure, procrastination and giving up

Fear of failure, procrastination and giving up

In February 2011 I reported (http://www.fearcourse.com/?p=281&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=235)  on some research I had conducted looking at procrastination and the fear of failure. The results are now in. Basically I was asked to look at doctoral completion rates and why some students failed to complete their thesis. In one department in one university the failure to complete had hit a staggering 43%. Not only is this a huge waste but also the cost involved is enormous. 

When I interviewed the students I found that almost very student had played an anticipatory 'video' in their head of the moment, after the viva when their tutor walks out and see from the look on the tutors face that they have failed. 

Having conducted a series of experiments based on the some of the techniques developed for the Fear Course I carried out a split test with two cohorts of doctoral students at Cardiff University.

The control group had no intervention or further contact with myself. The second group, chosen at random, had two live coaching sessions as a group. In the first coaching session I showed them what they were doing, how it was affecting them and why. I then showed them three reappraisal strategies, a re-programming strategy and two suppression or emotion regulation techniques. A month later I returned to the group to see how they were getting on, correct any issues they were having with the techniques and answer any questions.

The last of cohort I have been following defended her dissertation on Friday. Every student in the intervention cohort completed and passed. Just under 70% of the non-intervention cohort completed and passed, or 30% didn't. I think I'll chalk that up as a success!

As I pointed out in my post in 2011, when we engage in playing internal videos of failure three areas of the brain set up a series of interactions. The outcome of this is that one area becomes convinced you have already failed. This then sets up an emotional chain reaction, which in turn results in the feelings and thoughts of failure. As this is usually a familiar sensation we then trigger a behavior pattern, usually of avoidance, displacement (flight) or freezing. In other words we don’t complete the job. And all because we played a scenario in our head of some form of failure!

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Why task focus can cause a lack of empathy: Soldiers, bullies, criminals and emotional literacy

Why task focus can cause a lack of empathy: Soldiers, bullies, criminals and emotional literacy

Following on from the other blogs in this series looking at emotional literacy; Emotional Literacy: what it is and it's role in bullying both in school and the workplace and How the Gruffalo develops emotional literacy, emotional intelligence and emotion regulation, I want to look at what happens when we get task focussed.

A series of studies have shown links between crime and the level of ability of the individual to be able to empathise. The issue is if we don't have empathy with others then abuse is easy. It is usually our empathy that is the basis of our morality and codes of ethics. the fact that you probably wouldn't put a real gun to someones head and pull the trigger has more to do with empathy than having learned it is wrong by rote. The ability to kill or abuse for example usually requires some form of objectification or dehumanisation first. This can be because of a lack of emotional literacy and emotional intelligence, due to training or just simply being focussed on a end goal or task.

During World War 2 the historian S.L.A. Marshall conducted a study of combat troops which showed that in combat only about 15-25% of combat troops actually fired a weapon with the intention to kill even when they were under fire themselves. As a result of this and other studies military training was changed to improve what is known as the 'kill ratio' by having the soldiers objectify or dehumanize 'the enemy' and having them focus on the task and skills of killing r operating the machinery of killing.

Earlier this year (2013) a study was published in the journal Neuroimage which showed the pathways of dehumanisation and objectification - called the task positive network (TPN) or Task Related Network (TRN). There are two networks in the brain come into play when we are either empathising or objectifying. The first network operates when a person is focussed on internal processes, such as recognising our own feelings or self-referential thought like empathy called the Default Mode Network (DMN). When a person is focussed on action or carrying out tasks without reference to their emotions the area of the brain which is operating is the Task Positive Network (TPN).

In two studies published earlier this year researchers from the Department of Cognitive Science, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, US found that when when an individual is dehumanising or objectifying others the Default Mode Network (DMN) shows lower levels of activity and the Task Positive Network (TPN) shows higher levels of activity.

It would appear from a series of studies that the TPN and DMN work like a see-saw. When we are focussed on a task or achieving a goal the activity in the DMN reduces and vice versa. Task focus can produce a lack of empathy if the individual doesn't check back inside.
It would appear that people who lack the capabilities inherent in emotional literacy are less likely to check internally before acting against another. They objectify others readily, focus on the task (bullying or robbery for example) with little or no recourse to self-referential thought which is the precursor to empathy.

Emotional literacy programmes have been shown to be effective in redressing the balance.

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References

French, S. E., & Jack, A. I. (in revision). Dehumanizing the Enemy: The Intersection of Neuroethics and Military Ethics. In D. Whetham (Ed.), The Responsibility to Protect: Alternative Perspectives: Martinus Nijhoff. Due in print April 2014

Jack, A. I., Dawson, A. J., & Norr, M. E. (2013). Seeing human: Distinct and overlapping neural signatures associated with two forms of dehumanization. Neuroimage, 79C, 313-328

Marshall S.L.A. (1947) Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command University of Oklahoma Press

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Emotional Literacy: what it is and it's role in bullying both in school and the workplace

Emotional Literacy: what it is and it's role in bullying both in school and the workplace

One of the important concepts in the arena of emotion regulation is that of the lesser well known emotional literacy. Emotional literacy is often confused for emotional intelligence and whilst the two concepts appear to be quite similar there are important differences in their focus.

Emotional literacy really is the process underlying the development of emotional intelligence and emotion regulation.

Emotional literacy is the development of a discreet set of abilities around an individual's or a groups ability to read, interpret, understand their own and particularly others emotions. There is a conscious element here where the individual develops the ability to think accurately about their emotions and in particular can decode and relate to the emotional cues given off by other people. The operative word here is relate. These abilities are the basic requirements for empathy and are needed to learn successful emotion regulation techniques.

Emotional intelligence on the other hand is seen as a general terms which encompasses the whole set of human emotional tools and consciousness including the ability to regulate the emotions. Emotional intelligence is often used as a general overarching concept which can mean a whole range of specific emotional capabilities such as empathy or emotion regulation or the ability to recognise different emotional states depending on the context.

Emotionally literate people pick up on others emotional states and can identify and define their own emotions readily.

Often when helping people learn the skills of emotion regulation and in order to develop emotional resilience one has to take time to first develop the individuals emotional literacy, especially with people from cultures and familiy systems where there is no background of emotional expression or emotional literacy. People from such backgrounds often find it hard to articulate accuratly what is happening to them emotionally and there is evidence to show that such people also find it more dificult to also identify emotions in others and also regulate their own emotions. A study published earlier this year (2013) showed that developing emotional literacy reduced bullying in primary schools and a further study from 2009 showed that pupils with lower levels of emotional literacy were also likely to be victims of bulling.

So both the bully and bullied are more likely to come from the populations with lower levels of emotional literacy.

This is the case both in school and in the workplace. There is a growing amount of evidence to show that emotional literacy / emotional resilience programmes can reduce bullying in schools and the workplace. 

 

References

Einarsen, S. et al (eds) (2010) Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace: Developments in Theory, Research, and Practice, Second Edition. CRC Press, 30 Sep 2010

Harris, A (2009) An Investigation of the Relationship between Emotional Literacy and Bullying. Masters by Research thesis, Murdoch University.

Knowlera, C & Fredericksonb, N (2013) Effects of an emotional literacy intervention for students identified with bullying behaviour. Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology. May 2013.

 

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How the Gruffalo develops emotional literacy, emotional intelligence and emotion regulation.

How the Gruffalo develops emotional literacy, emotional intelligence and emotion regulation.

In this next few blogs I am going to look at emotional literacy, what it is, why it is important and what you can do to help develop it.

Me at an orphanage in South AfricaI am involved in a project in South Africa which is focussed on developing emotional literacy in school children. It has been discovered that if a child grows up without much emotional interaction with caregivers their ability to be able to read the emotional cues others and develop empathy is significantly stunted.

As a baby develops it starts to mimic the expressions of those around it. So we end up playing games with the baby, at first sticking our tongue out for example in response for the child to then copy. As these games develop what is happening as we swap facial expressions is that the child starts to learn to 'read' the facial expressions and body language both on the face of the adult and associate their moods and emotions to those expressions, like laughing or crying. We are in effect helping to programme the baby to associate visual cues with emotions.


As the child develops greater acuity in decoding the signals of emotions they also quickly learn to empathise with the emotional Children asleep on an orphanage floorstate of others. So they not only notice or recognise (decode) when someone is sad or happy or scared, they go inside and can feel the same emotions and understand where that individual is internally. This is emotional literacy.

The problem occurs when a child grows up in a situation where they rarely see others faces, or these facial games that we just automatically play aren't part of the child's learning process. So situations in overcrowded orphanages in areas with high parental death rates from deseases such as HIV/AIDS like areas of South Africa for example or where the child spends most of their day on their mothers back facing inwards tend not to allow for the development of emotional literacy.

Emotions of a GruffaloThe development of emotional literacy doesn't end with mirroring facial expressions. In the west we usually start giving our children picture books at a very early age. When you analyse the content of these books they are full of emotional cues such as expressions and body language. Illustrators of children's books usually include emotional cues even on animals and other non-existant characters in children's books like the Gruffalo story for example. You can tell or decode exactly what any of the characters in that story are feeling just from the drawings. Children in the west are often but nort always surrounded by the building blocks of emotional literacy. 

In areas like Africa on the other hand with high poverty rates such books are rare as are the normal emotional signals a child would normally get with one-to-one care. The problem is that emotional literacy is the precrusor to empathy and empathy, it turns out, is what stops most of us turning to crime, abuse and violence.

In the second of the series I will look at the research evidence behind this post, why some people are bullies and a whole load more!

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5 Factors that promote emotional resilience in children

5 Factors that promote emotional resilience in children

There are a series of factors currently emerging from studies which promote the development of emotional resilience in children. A number of these studies have looked at children who have overcome adversity, such as the death of parents, growing up in a war zone and children who have been enveloped in a natural disaster for example. A now well known analysis from researchers at the University of Minnesota in 1990 showed that children are much more likely to recover or bounce back if they:

  1. Have a positive relationship with at least one competent adult,
  2. Are good learners,
  3. Are good problem solvers
  4. Are engaging and engage with other people
  5. Have their own areas of competence that are valued by them-self (self-worth) and others (value).

We know from our own work into the development of emotional literature (the ability to recognise and perceive emotions in themselves and others), that children who are encouraged to ask questions and develop autonomous learning and problem solving skills (as opposed to being taught) tend to be more emotionally agile, able to regulate their own emotions better, suffer from less anxiety related issues and are more resilient. Certainly there are positive indications that developing critical and creative thinking skills are two further factors in the development of emotional resilience. The people who tend to do the best at dealing with their anxiety on The Fear Course those with reasonable reasoning skills.

These five factors are not the only requirements for the development of emotional resilience. I will review those in a forthcoming blog.

We are putting together a guide for developing emotional resilience in children. If you would like to get a copy pop your details in the boxes below and we will let you know as soon as it is ready.

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References

Masten, A.S. et al (1990) Resilience and development: Contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity. Development and Psychopathology / Volume 2 / Issue 04 / October 1990, pp 425-444

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