Around 18% of adults in the United States are affected by general or social anxiety, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, but recent research suggests a simple method of emotional regulation for managing or limiting anxiety, if not avoiding the condition altogether. It is called reappraisal, which is the concept of thinking about problems in new ways, or a “glass half-full” approach to stressful situations.
A study from the University of Illinois and published in the journal Emotion found that people who regularly engaged in reappraisal reported diminished anxiety when compared to those who suppressed emotions. According to study co-author, Nicole Llewellyn, reappraisal is when “You sort of reframe and reappraise what’s happened and thing what are the positives about this? What are the ways I can look at this and think of it as a stimulating challenge rather than a problem?”
The study surveyed 179 men and women about how they dealt with anxiety or managed their emotions in various situations. The research team then analyzed the results to determine whether certain strategies were linked to lower levels of anxiety. What they found was that the individuals who engaged in emotional regulation in this way had less social anxiety and suffered from less anxiety in general. The data suggest that people who suffer from anxiety have some degree of control over their management and regulation of symptoms just by engaging in reappraisal. This is a good thing since this type of emotional regulation can be taught, regardless of one’s genetic predispositions.
Some anxiety can be useful; a low-level anxiety helps most people maintain focus and get work done. It is how people respond to their anxiety in the long term that can cause problems. Suppressing or “bottling” emotions can be beneficial in the very short term (like when someone shouts at you), but over time, suppressed emotions can have negative consequences.
This study links existing research on emotional regulation and anxiety. Previous work had found that people who focused on making good things happen, rather than preventing bad things were found to be less anxious. Both studies point to ways that individuals can work with their anxiety.