Why people with anxiety have difficulty managing their emotions

We regulate all of our emotions, each day of our lives. Through this psychological process, we can manage how we feel and express our emotions, regardless of the situation that presents itself. But in some people, particularly anxious, this regulation is not effective. This pushes them to adopt other control strategies not always effective and good for their overall health. Explanations.

by Leanne Rowlands, a researcher in neuropsychology, Bangor University originally published on The Conversation

 The Conversation

Updated February 7, 2019 at 14:33


We regulate all of our emotions, each day of our lives. Through this psychological process, we can manage how we feel and express our emotions, regardless of the situation that presents itself. But in some people, this regulation is not effective. The feelings that they are experiencing are intense and difficult to bear, which often leads to their escape, to adopt behaviors, such as self-injury, alcohol consumption or overeating.

To regulate our emotions, we use a variety of strategies, such as reappraisal (which involves changing what we feel about something) and the deployment attentional (back to divert our attention from something). These strategies are based on the neural systems underlying the prefrontal cortex of our brain. If they malfunction, we can lose the ability to effectively manage our emotions.

But the dysregulated emotional does not occur only when the brain fails to use its control strategies. It can also occur when the attempts to alleviate the emotional unwanted is unsuccessful, or when policies are counter-productive to mitigation are implemented, that is to say, when the cost of such strategies is superior to the short-term benefits provided by the attenuation of an intense emotion. Decide not to open its bills to avoid an anxiety attack can help you feel better in the short term, but in the long term by a continual increase of costs.

The attempts of regulation unsuccessful and the employment of mitigations counter-productive are at the heart of many mental health problems, such as anxiety disorders and mood disorders. But the path leading to the dysregulation emotional is not always the same. In fact, research has found several causes for these situations.

Neural systems dysfunctional

In the anxiety disorders, dysfunction of the systems of the emotional brain results in emotional reactions much more intense than those which usually occur, as well as by an increased perception of threat and a negative view of the world. These characteristics influence the effectiveness of emotion regulation strategies. Results in an excessive dependence vis-à-vis strategies unsuitable, for example those consisting to avoid or try to suppress the emotions.

In the brains of people with anxiety disorders, the system on which is based the re-evaluation does not work as effectively as in the brains of people who are not affected. When this mitigation strategy emotions is used, certain parts of the prefrontal cortex are less activated compared to those of non-anxious. In fact, the higher the level of anxiety symptoms is high, the less these brain regions are activated. This means that the more the symptoms are intense, the less they can be re-evaluated.

Similarly, people with major depressive disorder , which results in an inability to regulate or repair the emotions, resulting in long episodes of depression – experiencing difficulties using cognitive control to manage their negative emotions and reduce their emotional intensity. This can be explained by differences in the neurobiological, such as a decrease in the density of the grey matter and the volume of the prefrontal cortex. In people with depression, there is less brain activation and metabolism, lower in this brain region when they performed tasks designed to regulate their emotions.

The function of the brain systems of motivation is in addition sometimes less effective in people with major depressive disorder than in the other. These networks of neural connections between the ventral striatum, located in the middle of the brain, and the prefrontal cortex. This is less good functioning could explain their reduced ability to regulate positive emotions. A difficulty known under the name d’ anhédonie), which translates into a lack of fun and appetite for life.


The less-efficient strategies

The ability to use one regulation strategy or another will vary depending on the people, it can hardly be doubted. But for some, it is strategies that simply do not work. It may be that people with anxiety disorders consider the re-evaluation as a strategy less effective because the bias of attention , which affects the fact that they give unintentionally more attention to negative information, and threatening. This can prevent them to interpret situations in a positive way – which is a key aspect of the re-evaluation.

It is also possible that the re-evaluation does not work as well in people with mood disorders than in the other. The cognitive biases experienced by people with major depressive disorder may lead them to interpret situations as being more negative than they are, and have difficulty experiencing any positive thoughts.

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