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Regulating emotions contextually linked with one’s well-being

More often than not, people reframe how they think about a given situation in order for them to properly manage their emotions. But it turns out this isn’t helpful to one’s well-being, especially to situations where people actually have control over, according to a recent study published in the Psychological Science journal.

“Our results caution against a ‘one strategy fits all’ approach, which may be tempting to recommend based on many previous findings regarding reappraisal as a strategy for regulating emotion,” Peter Koval, psychological scientist at Australian Catholic University, said in a statement.

“Simply using any given emotion regulation strategy more (or less) in all situations may not lead to the best outcomes—instead, contextually-appropriate emotion regulation may be healthier,” he added.

Their research underscored that the key to healthy functioning is the flexibility in using different strategies to regulate emotions.

Investigating in what way situational context might work in the relationship between well-being and emotion regulation in the everyday lives of individuals, Koval’s research team employed 74 adults to partake in a one-week study that included periodic surveys through a smartphone.

Prior to the start of the study, the participants accomplished validated measures to assess symptoms of stress, anxiety, neuroticism, and depression, plus measures of self-esteem and social anxiety.

Such measures were significant being an indication of the well-being of participants.

As for the 7-day research, the mobile survey application sent prompt questions to participants, such as to whether the latter “looked at things from a different perspective” and “changed the way [they] were thinking,” at random gaps of 40 to 102 minutes between 10 in the morning and 10 in the evening every day.

The participants also had to rate the amount of control they sensed of having over what had transpired since sending the last prompt, with their replies ranging from 0 (meaning, not at all) to 100 (very much so).

The research findings indicated participants’ successful compliance of survey instructions, responding to around 87% of delivered prompts.

Koval’s team discovered no reliable link between the well-being of participants and their overall reappraisal use as a way to regulate emotions in every day life, in connection with the idea that reappraisal isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of strategy.

What they found was that participants reporting higher levels of neuroticism, depression, social anxiety or anxiety, and stress were more prone to use reappraisal strategy to respond to what they thought as controllable situations.

Meanwhile, participants with higher well-being used reappraisal more in circumstances they felt like having little control over.

“We found that people with higher well-being increased their use of reappraisal as contexts became less controllable, whereas individuals with lower well-being showed the opposite pattern,” the research team said in their paper.

The researchers said their findings don’t say whether a “more situationally appropriate use of reappraisal” brings about better well-being, or vice versa.

Regardless, they said that such results suggested that context indeed makes a difference in the aftereffects of emotion-regulation strategies.

“When a situation can be directly changed, reappraisal may undermine the adaptive function of emotions in motivating action,” researchers wrote.

The researchers are working on a bigger follow-up study tracking the emotion regulation of participants in every day life for 3 weeks, as well as planning to extend their research by looking closely at emotion regulation strategies, measures of well-being, and contextual factors.

Koval’s co-authors are Tom Hollenstein of Queen’s University; Peter Kuppens of KU Leuven; Simon J. Haines, Izelle Labuschagne, John Gleeson, Joseph Ciarrochi, Caitlin Grace, all from Australian Catholic University.

The study titled The Wisdom to Know the Difference Strategy-Situation Fit in Emotion Regulation in Daily Life Is Associated With Well-Being can be viewed here.

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