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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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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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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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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