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.

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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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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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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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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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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