Investigating the effectiveness of emotion suppression, as a default method of mood management, at reducing anxiety.
IS SUPPRESSING EMOTIONS EFFECTIVE WITH ANXIETY?
Two main methods for mood management: emotion suppression and emotion acceptance
Emotion suppression refers to the avoidance and unwillingness to experience negative emotions, while emotion acceptance implies openness and willingness to stay in touch with the emotional experience even if it is negative.
Emotion suppression is associated with negative emotions and mood disorders, including anxiety
Emotion acceptance leads to positive outcomes for people with a psychological disorder and a reduction in fear and anxiety.
Anxiety and mood disorders are believed to be in part the result of ineffective regulation of emotional states. Excessive and persistent negative emotions may have developed as a consequence of poor emotion management, resulting in chronic mood problems.
Emotion Suppression for Mood Management
For example, one study demonstrates that suppressing emotions as a means to manage one’s emotional experience is associated with a range of negative outcomes, including negative affect and decreased well-being.
Other studies found similar results, particularly increased sympathetic arousal (i.e., the arousal body system that makes us run when we face danger) and inability to alleviate the subjective experience of emotions.
In the same vein, there is empirical evidence that experiential avoidance or unwillingness to experience negative emotions, feelings and thoughts correlate with levels of anxiety and depression.
In a larger context, suppressing other states, such as thoughts and pain, has been shown to be counterproductive, increasing instead the frequency of the “suppressed’ state.
Interestingly, the negative effects triggered by the suppression of an emotional state or thoughts appear to occur after the suppression period, suggesting a delayed response phenomenon.
Emotional Acceptance for Mood Management
By contrast, emotional acceptance entails openness to internal experiences and willingness to stay in touch with the experience even if it is uncomfortable.
Recent studies indicate that this approach promotes positive outcomes in individuals with psychological disorders. For example, in a study involving female participants high in anxiety sensitivity who breathed carbon-dioxide-enriched air (i.e., a trigger for panic attacks) manifested less intense fear and catastrophic thinking when practicing emotion acceptance.
The current study examined the effects of both approaches*, namely emotion acceptance and emotion suppression, on participants with anxiety and mood disorders who watched an emotion-provoking movie clip.
As expected, all the participants reported an increase in negative affect; however, the emotion-suppression group exhibited lingering negative affect two minutes after watching the movie compared to their emotion-acceptance peers.
Results from this study further lend credence to the notion that emotion-suppression fails at alleviating negative affect, despite it being a “default” method of coping among persons with anxiety and mood disorders.
Yasmina Rebani Lee
Campbell-Sills L, Barlow DH, Brown TA, Hofmann SG. Effects of suppression and acceptance on emotional responses of individuals with anxiety and mood disorders. Behav Res Ther. 2006 Sep;44(9):1251-63. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2005.10.001. Epub 2005 Nov 21. PMID: 16300723.
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* Sample instructions used in this study:
– Emotion suppression: ‘‘it is possible to experience emotions at lower levels if you really concentrate on controlling them;’’ or ‘‘you should not have to put up with more discomfort and distress than is necessary’
-Emotion acceptance: ‘‘Struggling against relatively natural emotions can actually intensify and prolong your distress;’’ or ‘‘Allow yourself to accept your emotions without trying to get rid of them’’
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