Use of maladaptive emotion regulation strategies is linked to poorer coping in the first year of the pandemic

A Swiss study shed light on how the use of specific emotion regulation strategies affected people’s coping during different stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adaptive strategies such as positive reappraisal alleviated anxiety and depression during the early phase of the pandemic, while maladaptive strategies such as rumination worsened symptoms. The results were published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Emotion regulation is the ability to control one’s emotional state using certain cognitive strategies. An example might be choosing to stay calm during a stressful argument instead of reacting angrily. Research suggests that adaptive emotion regulation strategies, such as acceptance and positive reappraisal, can buffer the negative effects of adversity. In contrast, maladaptive emotion regulation strategies, such as catastrophizing and rumination, have been associated with poorer psychological health.

Study authors Plamina Dimanova and her team sought to explore people’s use of emotion regulation strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychological research has suggested the crisis had a prolonged effect on mental health, with stress-related symptoms persisting a year after the virus emerged.

The study sample included 43 adults who had participated in a neuroimaging study in Switzerland. Prior to the pandemic, participants underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine their brain structure. Throughout the pandemic, participants completed several assessments of the use of anxiety, depression, and emotion regulation strategies. This included six bi-weekly assessments during the first phase of the pandemic (between March and May 2020) and a final assessment at the end of the first year of the pandemic (in December 2020).

The study results revealed that anxiety and depression increased after the initial emergence of COVID-19, decreased for a time, and then increased again by the end of the year. Statistical analysis further revealed that participants more often used coping strategies to manage their emotions, although the use of maladaptive strategies explained most of the variance in depression and anxiety across the board. throughout the study period.

Overall, the use of maladaptive emotion regulation strategies was associated with higher depression and anxiety, while the use of adaptive strategies was associated with lower anxiety, but not depression. For example, positive reappraisal, that is when a person attributes positive meaning to a stressful situation, appeared to alleviate depression and anxiety during the first phase of the pandemic. Rumination, which occurs when a person has recurring thoughts about negative feelings or experiences, seemed to worsen symptoms in the early phase. Self-blame, when someone blames themselves for a negative event, predicted increased anxiety in late 2020, and self-blame and rumination predicted worse depression.

Interestingly, refocusing on planning, that is when a person envisions future steps and engages in planning, also predicted worse depression at the end of the year, although it is considered an adaptive emotion regulation strategy. According to the study authors, this is consistent with research suggesting that the effectiveness of an adaptive strategy depends on the situation in which it is used.

Additionally, there was evidence that participants’ brain structure predicted their psychological well-being. Cortical thickness in the right lateral prefrontal cortex (assessed before the pandemic) was associated with poorer mental health during the early phase of the pandemic, and this association was mediated by greater rumination. Cortical thickness was also associated with psychological health at the end of the year, but was influenced by mental well-being experienced earlier in the pandemic.

Overall, the study results suggest that the use of emotion regulation strategies influenced psychological well-being during the pandemic. “Our findings underscore the potential for interventions that minimize the maladaptive use of emotion regulation in response to negative life events,” the authors write, later adding, “Due to the substantial personal and societal costs associated with health disorders mental illness, such as anxiety and depression, identification of risk factors for development, and biological and psychological markers of response to treatment are of great importance.

Among the limitations, the study data did not include pre-pandemic clinical assessments, so the researchers could not determine whether depression and anxiety increased with the onset of the crisis. COVID.

The study, “Prefrontal Cortical Thickness, Emotion Regulation Strategy Use, and COVID-19 Mental Health,” was authored by Plamina Dimanova, Réka Borbás, Cilly Bernardette Schnider, Lynn Valérie Fehlbaum, and Nora Maria Raschle.


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