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.

Children with emotion regulation skills do better at school - and are happier.

Children with emotion regulation skills do better at school - and are happier.

There is a growing body of evidence to show that a child's ability to regulate their own emotions, their general affective disposition ( their usual range of moods and what kind of mood they habitually display, in other words are they generally a happy individual or not) and their academic achievement are quite closely linked.

There have been a series of studies over the last ten years which have assessed student's ability to identify, manage and change their own emotional responses to situations and events and how well they have done at school and university. Virtually every study has come the same conclusion. Students who are able to regulate their own emotions and have more stable mood patterns tend to not only do better at school at all levels from primary school to high school or sixth form level and into University, but they also experience less dropouts in high school/sixth form and university.

Programmes and interventions such as ours currently running in schools in the UK, US and Africa to improve emotional literacy and emotion regulatory ability are showing positive early indications. These include an improvement in empathy within the groups, reports of lower levels of anxiety, less violence and increases in academic attainment.

References

Cybele, R.C. etal (2007) The roles of emotion regulation and emotion knowledge for children's academic readiness: Are the links causal? in Pianta et al (2007). School readiness and the transition to kindergarten in the era of accountability. , (pp. 121-147). Baltimore, MD, US: Paul H Brookes Publishing, xx, 364 pp.

Howse, R.B. (2003) Regulatory Contributors to Children's Kindergarten Achievement. Early Education & Development Volume 14, Issue 1, 2003.

Graziano, P.A. (2007) The role of emotion regulation in children's early academic success. Journal of School Psychology. Volume 45, Issue 1, February 2007, Pages 3–19

Gumora, G. & Arsenio, W.F. (2002) Emotionality, Emotion Regulation, and School Performance in Middle School Children. Journal of School Psychology. Volume 40, Issue 5, September–October 2002, Pages 395–413

Pekrun, R. etal (2002) Academic Emotions in Students' Self-RegulatedLearning and Achievement: A Program of Qualitative and Quantitative Research. Educational Psychologist Volume 37, Issue 2, 2002

Zeman, J. et al (2006) Emotion Regulation in Children and Adolescents. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: April 2006 - Volume 27 - Issue 2 - pp 155-168

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One way to break a negative anxiety cycle - mood induction

One way to break a negative anxiety cycle - mood induction

In yesterdays blog I talked about the role of self-focussed attention with anxiety, emotion regulation and emotional resilience. If you remember self focussed attention is where an individual pays more attention and 'listens' more to their internal feelings about something than to any external, rational or more objective evidence. Usually because self- focussed attention is associated with negative mental states the internal dialogue or evidence the individual uses is negative, which makes the situation worse.

Self-focussed attention has been found by researchers to be an issue in a wide range of mental, cognitive and clinical disorders such as depression, emotional reactivity, the whole range of anxieties, phobias, and defensive behaviours, and has, since the early 1970's been the topic of a fair amount of research.

An interesting study which was conducted by a team of researchers in five universities in the US, Canada and the UK was published in 2003 which looked at whether there was a connection between someone's mood and the level of self-focussed attention they engaged in and really importantly for our purposes, whether using mood induction techniques (techniques for changing a person's mood) would have an effect on that individual's level of self-focussed attention. This research came on the back of other studies in which techniques were used to induce happy or sad moods in people and measure, using a recognised self-focussed attention measurement test, to discover if the mood induction had altered the amount of self-focussed attention the participants engaged in.

This particular study examined 79 subjects (42 female and 37 male). They measured the natural amount of self-focussed attention each individual engaged in before the study. Then they played the participants music for just ten minutes, which had been shown in previous studies to induce the moods of happiness, sadness or no mood inducing properties.

The Happy mood music was a version of Bach's Brandenberg Concerto No. 3, played by jazz flutist Hubert Laws. The neutral selection included two Chopin Waltzes: 'No. 11 in G flat' and 'No. 12 in F minor' played by Alexander Brailowsky, and the sad inducing music was Prokofiev's 'Russia under the Mongolian Yoke' played at half speed. You should listen to them. they really do the trick!

Mood induction matters

After each mood induction session the individuals were then tested again for their level of self-focussed attention. The researchers found daily clear evidence that the amount of self-focussed attention dropped significantly when the participants had a happy mood induction compare to the neutral mood induction and likewise the sad mood induction increased significantly the amount of self-focussed attention the participants engaged in.

There are a range of other mood induction techniques which we explore on the Fear Course as they help break they downward cycle of negative feelings > increase in self-focussed attention > maintenance or increase of anxiety and fear.

References

Green, J.D. et al (2003) Happy mood decreases self-focused attention. British Journal of Social Psychology (2003), 42, 147–157

Wood, J. V., Saltzberg, J. A., & Goldsamt, L. A. (1990). Does affect induce self-focused attention? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 899–908

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Why our thoughts get all bent out of shape when we are anxious.

Why our thoughts get all bent out of shape when we are anxious.

One of the problems with anxiety (as opposed to fear) is that we start to understand and see things differently. A study published yesterday by researchers at Oklahoma State University shows that people suffering from social anxiety disorder (S.A.D.) have what scientists call 'self-focussed attention'. Self-focussed attention means that an individual weighs evidence from internal perceptual sources as much, and often more than, evidence from external sources. What this means is that is an individual with low self esteem is likely to ignore evidence from others or from other objective sources that they have worth or can do something, rather believing instead what they feel and think internally. Given that the individual is in a state of anxiety and has low self-esteem you can guess where the conclusions of these feelings and thoughts are likely to lead.  

What this study shows that not only does self-focussed attention make the level of anxiety worse it also shows that the individuals thinking, rationale and ability to weigh things up objectively is significantly impaired during anxious episodes. 

In short when we are anxious we are much more likely to believe our (negative) feelings about a situation as opposed to objective evidence of the situation from what we see and hear. If you have ever made a parachute jump you are quite likely to understand exactly what this feels like!

People with anxieties like the fear of flying, fear of public speaking etc are all doing the same thing; paying much more attention to what their frightened internal feelings and perceptions are telling them than what the objective facts are. These internal feelings and perceptions are heightened, because of the anxiety, to any hint of a negative outcome no matter how small a possibility that bad outcome is, whilst at the same time ignoring or reducing any external evidence to the contrary. 

Self-focussed attention reduces emotional resilience and the ability to regulate our own emotions.

In effect the phenomenon of self-focussed attention makes the whole situation worse by locking the individual inside themselves, and it's scary in there. 

 

References

Ingram R. (1990) Self-focussed attention in clinical disorders: Review and conceptual model. Psychological Bulletin. Vol 107. No.2. Pp156-176 

Judah, M. R. et al (2013) The Neural Correlates of Impaired Attentional Control in Social Anxiety: An ERP Study of Inhibition and Shifting. Emotion, Aug 5 , 2013, doi: 10.1037/a0033531

Free webinar 15th August 2013

 

 

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Emotional Labour: Have you signed up to a hidden emotional contract at work?

Emotional Labour: Have you signed up to a hidden emotional contract at work?

People often think the concept of emotion regulation is something new and specific to things like anxiety or fear reduction or similar endeavours. The idea of emotion regulation, changing our emotions at will, is really old and actually happens all the time. Indeed most of the working population have unwittingly agreed and signed up to a hidden emotional contract, known by psychologists and sociologists as 'emotional labour'.

Emotional labour is the expectation by your employer and work colleagues that you will operate within certain emotional boundaries or with fairly narrow emotional latitude at work. So for example, in most workplaces, anger is not an accepted form of behaviour or display of emotion especially towards customers. Most people find themselves hiding irritation, anger, lust, and many other emotions in the work place. Just think about the range of emotions you go through at work and which of those emotions you display freely and which you wouldn't and which emotions if you did allow to be displayed would be severely career limiting.

In certain jobs, employees are expected and instructed to display certain emotions and only those emotions. For example hotel staff, waitresses, doctors etc. are all expected to behave in certain ways to their clients, customers and patients. In fact one of the biggest forms of complaints most professions suffer are because of employee 'attitude'.

Sometimes, as in the cases of waiters, public service employees such as nurses and police officers, doctors, judges, and so on there is a fairly explicit code of practice, which whist often not explicitly mentioning emotions, are very definitely aimed at emotion regulation and 'acceptable' displays of emotion. I remember a police colleague being admonished for walking along holding hands with his wife in the street whilst in uniform. This form of emotional labour is in the form of: If you want to continue getting paid you need to conform emotionally to our rules. Therefore we are paying you to regulate your emotions.

Often however emotional labour is implicit and part of the culture whereby most people at work are expected to behave in certain ways. To remain 'professional', which often means to regulate your emotions and behave within certain bounds and not display your true feelings, especially feelings like anger, or hate or lust or love.

The basic idea of emotional labour was introduced by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild in 1983 in his book 'The Managed Heart: Commercialization of human feeling', in which he argues that employers control employees' emotions for their own purposes and profit, and as a consequence feelings actually come to belong to organisations rather than to us as individuals.

Later two researchers (Macdonald and Sirianni (1996)) start to use the term "emotional proletariat" meaning a whole raft of modern service workers who are explicitly required ti have a narrow band of positive emotions and only those emotions. Variance from this narrow band usually results in further 'training' or dismissal.

This form of emotional labour requiring emotion regulation and therefore emotional resilience, often goes beyond the workplace where if workers were to display their true unregulated emotions in the public, even if they were 'off duty' they would find themselves in trouble for bringing the organisation into disrepute.

So what are your hidden emotional contracts?

Free webinar

References

Hochschild, Arlie (1979). "Emotion Work, Feeling Rules, and Social Structure". American Journal of Sociology 85 (3).
Hochschild, A. R. (1983). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Macdonald C.L & and Sirianni, C. (1996) Working in the Service Society. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.
Rafaeli, A. & Sutton, R. I. 1989. The expression of emotion in organizational life. Research in Organizational Behavior, 11, 1-43.

 

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Eating as an emotion regulation strategy

Eating as an emotion regulation strategy

Some research just published by Dr. Angelina Sutin, a psychological scientist and a team of colleagues at the Florida State University College of Medicine in Tallahassee looking into the effects of negative emotional 'hits' on obese people particularly in the form of weight discrimination or weightism. The researchers weighed 1919 individuals in 2006 and again in 2010 and found that those who had suffered from some form of direct weigh discrimination were 3 times more likely to weigh more four years later that people who had not suffered from some form of discrimination.
Such forms of unhealthy or maladaptive emotion regulation strategies are common and include drug taking, self harm, forms or reckless driving, aggression to name a few.

A scan of the eating disorder research reveals a vast array of literature and research all pointing to evidence that many eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa are considered by psychiatrists to me maladaptive emotion regulation strategies.
One such study from King's College London published in 2009 found that when compared to people with healthy eating habits, people with anorexia nervosa had a significantly harder time decoding emotions or emotion recognition (emotional intelligence) and significantly more difficulties with emotion regulation (emotional resilience).

There have been suggestions that eating disorders are more a function of problems with decision making as opposed to maladaptive emotion regulation issues. A study in 2010 from researchers at the University of Montpellier gives evidence that this is not the case and individuals with eating disorders do not display any impairment in decision making.

On the 15th August I will be running a LIVE online seminar called 'How we catch anxiety and fear and what to do about it'. I will be covering some of the latest research and ideas about the 'why' of anxiety and fear. The seminar is FREE but there are only100 places. If you would like to book a place simply leave your details below:

Confidence course signup

The seminar will be at 6pm UK (BST) (1pm EDT - 10AM PDT - 7PM CEST /SAST - 3AM AEST)

 

References

Guillaume, S. Et Al (2010) Is decision making really impaired in eating disorders? Neuropsychology. 2010 Nov;24(6):808-12. doi: 10.1037/a0019806.

Harrison, A. Et al (2009) Emotion recognition and regulation in anorexia nervosa. Clinical Psychology and psychotherapy 2009 Jul-Aug;16(4):348-56. doi: 10.1002/cpp.628.

Sutin, A.R. et al (2013) I know not to, but I can't help it: Weight gain and changes in impulsivity-related personality traits. Psychological Science July 2013 vol. 24 no. 7 1323-1328. doi:10.1177/0956797612469212

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Your focus = your anxiety

Your focus = your anxiety

Sally really wants to get good grades because there is a job she really wants to do.
Bill wants to get good grades because he doesn't want to be unemployed when he leaves university.
Does it make a difference which motivations someone uses to get something done in terms of anxiety levels?

A question:

Do you tend to spend most of your daily life striving achieving positive goals or do you tend to find yourself doing things to avoid negative situations and outcomes?
Which of these two strategies motivates you to do things most of the time? It is worth keeping a note of which motivations you use during your normal week.

OK let me ask you another question

If a difficult situation arises what is your natural response?
a. Pretend it's not happening or try to avoid the situation?
b. Get in there and try to find out what's going on by exploring the issue?

and one more

Do you generally
a. Actively make things happen in your life?
or
b. React to things happening?

As you may well have guessed, these three questions are related - not only to each other but also how effective you re likely to be at regulating your own emotions and how much anxiety you suffer from.

Psychologists refer to this as Regulatory Focus (RF). Are you a positive goal focussed, always trying to achieve something kind of person or do you tend to be motivated to action largely to stop negative things happening?

Regulatory focus has been of interest to psychologists for a long time. A growing body of research in recent years has focussed on whether an individuals or teams Regulatory Focus has an impact on out health and in particular on things like anxiety, depression and recently whether our regulatory focus has an impact on our ability to regulate our own emotions.

In a forthcoming paper colleagues at the University of Illinois led by Professor Florin Dolcos, investigated this very issue. Does our Regulatory Focus make any difference to our general levels of anxiety and our ability to regulate our emotions. They studied 179 healthy adults (110 women and 69 men) to look at their general levels of anxiety, what type of emotion regulation strategies they used when things got tough (which leads to Emotional Resilience) and their Regulatory Focus.
What the researchers found was that people with a positive goal oriented attitude who tend to explore and make things happen tend to to suffer significantly less anxiety and tend to have more effective emotion regulation strategies.

On the 15th August I will be running a LIVE online seminar called 'How we catch anxiety and fear and what to do about it'. I will be covering some of the latest research and ideas about the 'why' of anxiety and fear. The seminar is FREE but there are only100 places. If you would like to book a place simply leave your details below:

Confidence course signup

The seminar will be at 6pm UK (BST) (1pm EDT - 10AM PDT - 7PM CEST /SAST - 3AM AEST)

Reference
Llewellyn, N. Et Al (2013) Reappraisal and Suppression Mediate the Contribution of Regulatory Focus to Anxiety in Healthy Adults. Emotion May 2013 (First notice)

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Vitamin C and anxiety, depression and mood disorders

Vitamin C and anxiety, depression and mood disorders

There have been a number of suggestions (and papers) that the intake of vitamins can help with mood problems, anxiety, depression, emotion regulation and emotional resilience and a number of other cognitive disorders. The most likely candidates are vitamins B, C and D. 

In a paper published yesterday in The American Journal of Nutrition, four teams of scientists from the US and Canada conducted a series of trials on acutely hospitalised patents looking at the effects of Vitamins C & D on mood, anxiety and distress in patients. They prescribed Vitamin C (500 mg) twice a day for ten days. The vitamin C trails had a significant effect on the mood, levels of anxiety and distress on those patients. The Vitamin D trials were abandoned as they were unable to raise the levels of Vitamin D high enough in the patients in that period to gather the data needed.  

The patients involved in the trail were considered to have low levels of vitamin C and D at the outset of the trials.

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Free course starting today from David WilkinsonDavid Wilkinson on Vimeo.

Get your FREE anxiety and fear busting course now!

Reference

Wang, Y. Et al (2013) Effects of vitamin C and vitamin D administration on mood and distress in acutely hospitalized patients. The American Journal of Nutrition. September 2013 ajcn.056366

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Sleep deprivation / insomnia restricts a persons ability to regulate their own emotions.

In an ongoing study at the department of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is revealing some interesting results about the effect sleep deprivation and insomnia has on an individuals ability to regulate their own emotions. The study, which uses fMRi analysis shows that people with insomnia and sleep deprivation have much higher levels of activation in the amygdala (the fear control centre of the brain) whilst engaged in emotion regulation tasks. This may be the first neurological evidence backing up other research that shows that people suffering from insomnia and sleep deprivation appear to have to work harder to successfully regulate their emotions than people with normal sleep patterns. Further there is a strong suggestion that the difficulties people with chronic sleep deprivation face regulating their emotions is as a result of alterations created in the brain's circuitry.

Now the question is, do the alterations cause sleep problems or do sleep problems cause the changes in the brains functioning. There is some evidence from other studies that both (bidirectionally) can happen. Sleep deprivation over a prolonged time can cause changes in the brains wiring and changes in the brain makes insomnia more likely. 

In any event this study provides even more evidence about the links between sleep our ability to regulate our emotions and how insufficient sleep may contribute to the onset of emotional difficulties as well as the development of depression and other psychological and psychiatric problems.

I am currently putting together a sleep pack to help those with sleep difficulties get more sleep. If you are interested getting details of the sleep pack once it is finished just pop your details into the boxes below and I will send you details once the pack is ready.

This offer expires in:

Reference

Franzen PL, et al, (2013) Elevated amygdala activation during voluntary emotion regulation in primary insomnia. 27th Joint Conference of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and The Sleep Research Society Baltimore June 1-5 2013.

 

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Links between insomnia / sleep disruption and anxiety / depression

I have previously reported a number of studies which show strong links between insomnia, sleep deprivation and anxiety/fear as well as a number of other medical, general health and performance issues.

One of the problems with any research that proposes a correlation is what is known as Bidirectionality. It other words correlation does not imply causality. An example my old professor at Oxford used to drum in to us: Every week day a bell rings in Lancaster and every day at that precise moment a factory in Oxford opens it's doors and people leave the factory. The correlation is perfect. However the two events are unrelated and neither one causes the other. It just so happens the bell rings at five o'clock and the shift at the factory ends at five also.

So finding a correlation and finding causality are two very different things.

Studies that look at directionality however are trying to find causal links, which is harder than you would think. Directionality means finding evidence that when a happens b will then happen or a leads to b. Bidirectionality is looking at whether when a leads to b and b leads to a. In other words do they spark each other off?

This month, colleagues from Adelaide and Flinders universities in Australia published a paper based on a systematic review of previous published research looking at the Bidirectionality of sleep disruption, anxiety and depression. 

What they found was that insomnia and sleep quality were bidirectionally related to anxiety and depression, and depression/anxiety, respectively. Childhood sleep problems significantly predicted higher levels of depression and a combined depression/anxiety variable, but not vice-versa. A one-way relationship was found where anxiety predicted excessive daytime sleepiness, but excessive daytime sleepiness was not associated with depression.

So what does this mean? 

This systematic review had three major findings:

1. Basically the quality of sleep is linked to levels of depression and anxiety. So that the more disrupted an individuals sleep the more likely it is that an individual will suffer from anxiety and depression. Additionally disrupted sleep can also lead to either anxiety or depression or both. 

This study also means that anxiety and/or depression leads to disrupted sleep patterns. So we have a cyclic arrangement where they feed off each other.

2. A second finding (a lack of Bidirectionality) was that sleep problems in children predicts higher levels of depression or depression and anxiety together, but not anxiety later in life. In other words if someone suffered from sustained sleep problems as a child there is an increased likelihood of that individual being diagnosed with depression or depression and anxiety later in life. There is no link between sleep deprivation as a child and the onset of anxiety later in life. Further if someone suffers from depression or depression and anxiety together it does not mean that they suffered from sleep problems as a child. 

3. The last finding was that people suffering from anxiety quite often found they felt sleepy during the day, but that feeling sleepy during the day is unlikely to cause anxiety on it's own. Further that depression and daytime sleepiness are not associated. 

 I cover the issue of sleep deprivation and provide help with sleep related issues on the fear course. I am currently putting together a sleep pack to help those with sleep difficulties get more sleep. If you are interested getting details of the sleep pack once it is finished just pop your details into the boxes below and I will send you details once the pack is ready. 

This offer expires in:

Reference

Alvaro PK; Roberts RM; and Harris JK. (2013) A systematic review assessing bidirectionality between sleep disturbances, anxiety, and depression. SLEEP 2013;36(7):1059-1068.

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Links between anxiety, depression, cholesterol levels and statins

In a paper to be published next month a team of researchers in China (You, H et al. 2013) have conducted a wide ranging literature review and meta-analysis of research conducted around the world between 1972 and 2012 looking at the links between use of statins to lower cholesterol levels and potential links with depression and anxiety.

It has long been known that there are links between low levels of cholesterol and problems with the serotonin system in the brain. Lower levels of serotonin tend to bring about depressive episodes and anxiety, which is why many anti-depressants used today are designed to chemically boost the serotonin levels in the brain. 

When people have high cholesterol levels they are often prescribed neurosteroids or statins to reduce the cholesterol. What this piece of research shows is that when statins are used to lower cholesterol there is an increased risk of the development of depression and anxiety in the patient. This is also evidence to show that cholesterol lowering drugs may also indirectly (through the reduction of cholesterol) impair an individuals ability to regulate their emotions. This impairment of of emotion regulation ability whilst using prescribed neurosteriods or statins is important, especially for people engaging in courses like The Fear Course. As a result we have a series of guides for our clients who are taking statins which help them deal with the potential effects the drugs will cause. Contact me if you want a copy of the guide. 

 

Reference

You, H. et al (2013) The relationship between statins and depression: a review of the literature. Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy. 2013 Aug;14(11):1467-76. doi: 10.1517/14656566.2013.803067.

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New Blog

I have moved my blogs onto new software within the site for a variety of reasons I won't bore you with. The 2009 - 2011 posts are here. ;-)

Dave

 

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