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Manipulating Your Emotions Is Not Always Good For Psychological Health

Update Date: Oct 28, 2013 01:23 PM EDT

Each individual deals with stressful events in different ways. Cognitive reappraisal, a common emotion management strategy used by many in those events may actually be more harmful than helpful in certain cases according to a new study.

"Context is important," psychological scientist and lead researcher Allison Troy of Franklin & Marshall College, said in a news release. "Our research is among the first to suggest that cognitive reappraisal may actually have negative effects on psychological health in certain contexts."

According to the Association For Psychological Science, cognitive reappraisal is a strategy in which a person reevaluates their thoughts in a stressful situation in order to change how they are emotionally affected.

"For someone facing a stressful situation in which they have little control, such as a loved one's illness, the ability to use reappraisal should be extremely helpful-changing emotions may be one of the only things that he or she can exert some control over to try to cope," said Troy.

"But for someone experiencing trouble at work because of poor performance, for example, reappraisal might not be so adaptive," added Troy. "Reframing the situation to make it seem less negative may make that person less inclined to attempt to change the situation."

For the study, researchers gathered persons who had recently gone through a stressful life event. The participants were asked to take an online survey in order for the researchers to evaluate their depression and anxiety levels. 

A week from taking the online survey, the participants were to watch a film clip that produced an emotion of neutrality and in addition they watched three sad film clips.

"During these clips, they were randomly assigned to use cognitive reappraisal strategies to think about the situation they were watching "in a more positive light," reported APS. 

Researchers found that in this study the power to control sadness was linked with fewer depression symptoms for those participants whose recent life stress was not controllable, such as the illness of a family memory suggests APS. 

Researchers also found that for those participants who underwent a more controllable stressful event the act of using reappraisal as a coping mechanism was associated with more depressive symptoms.

"When stressors are controllable, it seems that cognitive reappraisal ability isn't just less beneficial, it may be harmful," said Troy.

"These results suggest that no emotion regulation strategy is always adaptive," Troy added. "Adaptive emotion regulation likely involves the ability to use a wide variety of strategies in different contexts, rather than relying on just one strategy in all contexts."

The findings are published in the journal Psychological Science.

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