Our emotions impact our lives in many ways. They provide much of the pleasure and happiness in life. They also torment us with painful, unpleasant, feelings that interfere with our well-being and happiness. Many mental illnesses involve distorted or exaggerated emotions. So a key to our happiness and our mental health is the ability to deal with emotions effectively.
It is well established that mindfulness training increases the ability to control emotions and our responses to the emotions. This is called emotion regulation. It is a very important benefit of mindfulness and it has positive effects on many life situations from dealing with stress and depression, to assisting in recovery from cancer, to improving caregiver well-being, to being a better negotiator.
Since, the mindfulness induced improvement in emotion regulation is so important, understanding it becomes extremely important. There is a need to understand exactly what mindfulness does to improve emotion regulation and what intermediaries are affected that link mindfulness with the emotions. One aspect of this question is addressed in today’s Research News Article “State Mindfulness during Meditation Predicts Enhanced Cognitive Reappraisal”
The study found that mindfulness was associated with emotional reappraisal which inferred that mindfulness promotes emotion regulation by enhancing cognitive reappraisal.
Cognitive reappraisal is a strategy that involves changing the direction or magnitude of an emotional response by reinterpreting the meaning of the situation that evoked the emotion. For example if you have to give a speech and you are overwhelmed with anxiety a possible cognitive reappraisal would be to ask yourself what’s the worst thing that could happen, your voice may quake and you may forget a few words. That’s not so bad. Then you focus on the positives for example how honored you are by the opportunity to speak to this group and the impact you will have on them. Note how the reappraisal diminishes the anxiety and replaces it with pride.
After a first date a lady does not hear from the gentleman again and becomes deeply depressed. Looking at the thought process involved the lady notes that the snub reinforced her feeling of worthlessness exacerbating her depression. A reappraisal strategy is to look carefully at the date and see that they were no really compatible and continuing dating would only lead to a dead end. Seeing it this way removes it from the problems with self-worth and reinterprets it as a good thing that he didn’t call. This Flips the situation it from a negative to a positive.
Mindfulness teaches us to look carefully at an emotion and experience it fully and not run away from it. This affords the opportunity to think about it and reappraise it. Mindfulness also relaxes the sympathetic nervous system which is highly activated with strong emotions. This makes the feeling less intense and not so overwhelming that the individual can take a look at the rationally and cognitively reappraise them.
So, practice mindfulness and better manage your emotions.