This post is part of a series I wrote for my Cognitive Psychologies classes.
Going through my third lockdown caused by a new strain of COVID-19, I am not as anxious as when the pandemic started. In the beginning, I was in a state of high alert and anxiety generated by uncertainty about the future.
Anxiety is a problem of emotion regulation (Barlow, 1988), mostly equated with fear in psychology and psychiatry (Barlow, 2004). Multiple fields study emotions (Philippot & Feldman, 2004), starting with the last decades of the 20th century (Gross, 1998), the field being in its maturing stage currently (Tamir, 2011). For example, psychotherapy designs interventions for emotional awareness and regulation (Greenberg & Paivio, 1997), cognitive psychology investigates the connection between cognition and emotion (Bahk & Choi, 2017), while neuropsychology inquires how brain functions are related to emotional generation and regulation, and their implications on mental disorders (Andrewes & Jenkins, 2019).
Figure 1. Occurrences of “emotion regulation” in Google Scholar publications
Emotional regulation refers to how people influence their emotions (type, duration, or intensity), react to emotions and influence the situation that drives those emotions (Gross, 2015). Some emotional regulation strategies are reappraisal (redefining the meaning of an emotional stimulus), cognitive distancing (becoming detached and observing the emotion and situation), and behavioural suppression (suppressing external displays of emotions, like facial expressions) (Pessoa, 2013).
Figure 2. The process of emotion regulation
The strategies I use most often are reappraisal and suppression. While suppressing or distraction functions in the short term, reappraisal is more effective than suppression, as it does not impact memory and reduces emotional experience and behaviour (Gross, 2002). Reappraisal decreases amygdala responses, engaging the prefrontal cortex, and can induce long-lasting changes in the neural representation of an uncontrollable emotional event (Denny et al., 2015), hence it appears to be the most appropriate strategy for the current context.
Andrewes, D. G., & Jenkins, L. M. (2019, March 14). The Role of the Amygdala and the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex in Emotional Regulation: Implications for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Neuropsychology Review. Springer Nature. https://doi.org/10.1007/S11065-019-09398-4
Bahk, Y.-C., & Choi, K.-H. (2017, September 12). The relationship between autobiographical memory, cognition, and emotion in older adults: a review. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition. Taylor & Francis Group (Informa). https://doi.org/10.1080/13825585.2017.1377681
Barlow, D. H. (1988). Anxiety and its disorders: The nature and treatment of anxiety and panic. Guilford Press.
Barlow, D. H. (2004). Anxiety and Its Disorders, Second Edition: The Nature and Treatment of Anxiety and Panic (Second ed.). The Guilford Press.
Denny, B. T., Inhoff, M. C., Zerubavel, N., Davachi, L., & Ochsner, K. N. (2015, July 31). Getting Over It: Long-Lasting Effects of Emotion Regulation on Amygdala Response. Psychological Science. SAGE Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797615578863
Greenberg, L. S., & Paivio, S. C. (1997). Working with emotions in psychotherapy. Guilford Press.
Gross, J. J. (2002, May 1). Emotion regulation: affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology. Wiley. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0048577201393198
Gross, J. J. (2015, January 2). Emotion Regulation: Current Status and Future Prospects. Psychological Inquiry. Taylor & Francis Group. https://doi.org/10.1080/1047840X.2014.940781
McRae, K. (2016, August 1). Cognitive emotion regulation: a review of theory and scientific findings. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.COBEHA.2016.06.004
Pessoa, L. (2013). The Cognitive-Emotional Brain: From Interactions to Integration (The MIT Press) (Illustrated ed.). The MIT Press.
Philippot, P., & Feldman, R. S. (2004). The Regulation of Emotion (1st ed.). Psychology Press.
Tamir, M. (2011, January 1). The Maturing Field of Emotion Regulation. Emotion Review. SAGE Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1177/1754073910388685