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.

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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