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.

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

 

 

Rate this blog entry:
2
Continue reading
13677 Hits
0 Comments

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.

 

Rate this blog entry:
3
Continue reading
15623 Hits
0 Comments

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

Rate this blog entry:
4
Continue reading
22874 Hits
0 Comments

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)

Rate this blog entry:
2
Continue reading
12638 Hits
0 Comments

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.

 

Rate this blog entry:
2
Continue reading
72921 Hits
0 Comments

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.

Rate this blog entry:
2
Continue reading
31689 Hits
0 Comments