Improve Emotion Regulation with Emotional-Based Meditation
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Mindfulness enables you to become a more cognizant observer of your experience, allowing you to become more “tuned in” to what you are feeling inside. When emotions feel confusing, overwhelming, or paralyzing, they are not serving the healthy and productive function that those very same emotions are able to serve when used constructively.” – Laura Chang
Mindfulness practice has been shown to improve emotion regulation. Practitioners demonstrate the ability to fully sense and experience emotions, but respond to them in more appropriate and adaptive ways. In other words, mindful people are better able to experience yet control their responses to emotions. This is a very important consequence of mindfulness. Humans are very emotional creatures and these emotions can be very pleasant, providing the spice of life. But when they get extreme, they can produce misery and even mental illness. The ability of mindfulness training to improve emotion regulation is thought to be the basis for a wide variety of benefits that mindfulness provides to mental health and the treatment of mental illness especially depression and anxiety disorders.
Many forms of mindfulness training involve both attention training to thoughts and also internal attention to feelings and emotions. It is not known what components of mindfulness training are responsible for the improvements in emotion regulation. In today’s Research News article “A Positive Emotional-Based Meditation but Not Mindfulness-Based Meditation Improves Emotion Regulation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00647/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_951898_69_Psycho_20190404_arts_A), Valim and colleagues recruited healthy young adults who did not engage in mindfulness practices or yoga. They were randomly assigned to receive either a 20 minute guided meditation on observing thoughts, a 27 guided meditation instructing participants to concentrate on desiring “good things for the Earth and for all humanity”, similar to Loving Kindness Meditation practice, or a rest of similar duration.
The participants were measured before the brief practice for emotion regulation, anxiety, depression, mindfulness, and positive and negative emotions. After the practice they were again measured for positive and negative emotions and also performed an emotion regulation task in which the participants viewed emotion arousing pictures and were asked to affect their emotional reactions either by reappraising them to increase or decrease their responses, distract themselves by performing a mathematical problem, or simply look carefully at the pictures. While performing the task the electrocardiograph (ECG) was measured.
They found that both the groups who either observed thoughts or good feelings were better able to attend to the distraction and have lower emotional responses. With the reappraisal strategy, however, the participants who had the brief meditation on good feelings were better able to increase or decrease their reactions to either positive or negative emotion pictures than the participants who observed thoughts. The interbeat intervals in the ECG showed significant changes according to the positive or negative emotional valence of the pictures and also with the different strategies. But there were no significant differences between groups.
These results suggest that a brief guided meditation practice can alter emotion regulation in regard to both reappraisal and distraction strategies. But, surprisingly, the attention to good feelings strategy appeared to be superior to the attention to thoughts strategy in altering (amplifying or deadening) the emotional reactions to both positive and negative pictures.
It should be kept in mind that these were very brief practices and different results might occur with more prolonged practice. The attention to thoughts strategy was also unusual as most mindfulness techniques emphasize attention to breathing or external stimuli without judgment. It is possible that the attention to thoughts strategy was less effective because it actually decreased mindfulness by increasing attention to thinking. Nevertheless, the results suggest that it is important to study the components of mindfulness practices and their differing effects on emotion regulation.
So, improve emotion regulation with emotional-based meditation.
“Mindful emotion regulation represents the capacity to remain mindfully aware at all times, irrespective of the apparent valence or magnitude of any emotion that is experienced. It does not entail suppression of the emotional experience, nor any specific attempts to reappraise or alter it in any way. Instead, MM involves a systematic retraining of awareness and nonreactivity, leading to defusion from whatever is experienced, and allowing the individual to more consciously choose those thoughts, emotions and sensations they will identify with, rather than habitually reacting to them. In this way, it erodes the automatic process of appraisal that gives rise to disturbing emotions in the first place” – Richard Chambers
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Valim CPRAT, Marques LM and Boggio PS (2019) A Positive Emotional-Based Meditation but Not Mindfulness-Based Meditation Improves Emotion Regulation. Front. Psychol.10:647. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00647
Among the various strategies for modulating the components of the emotional responses, the cognitive reappraisal and distraction are highlighted in current researches. As indicated in recent studies, the capacity for emotional regulation can be improved by mindfulness meditation practicing. This practice usually offers benefits to people’s cognitive functioning and aims to improve a characteristic that is intrinsic to every human being: the ability to turn attention to the present moment. Importantly, positive emotions might also be effective on emotional regulation and several meditation practices make use of it. Thus, we aimed to compare two meditation modalities: one focused on attention only (mindfulness) and another focused-on attention toward positive emotions [Twin Hearts Meditation (THM)]. Ninety healthy subjects without any previous experience in meditation were enrolled in this experiment. Of these participants, 30 were submitted to the mindfulness practice with full attention on the observation of thoughts; 30 to the THM; and 30 to a control group (no meditation practice). After one session of meditation, all the participants completed emotional regulation task judging the valence and arousal of pictures with emotional content. In addition to the behavioral data, the participants’ psychophysiological measures were recorded via electrocardiography (ECG). The results demonstrate a greater efficacy of THM in suppressing the negative valence of the negative pictures and amplifying the valence of the positive ones. No effect of meditation was observed for the ECG. Our findings indicate that contemplative meditation (THM) can positively influence the emotion regulation ability, even when performed by non-meditators and only once. However, in mindfulness meditation this same immediate effect was not found. Our findings reveal that faster effects of meditation practices can be obtained by practices that considers either the attentional processing and the positive emotions.