Keep on the exposure - Blog post anxiety - Part II
Even though my blog post anxiety has slightly improved since my last blog post - I moved on to seeing it as just another uncomfortable activity that is part of my life now - I still wonder, who the hell wants to know about my life or even worse my past year as an Early Career Researcher (Why? Well, you tell me!)
Believe it or not, there are people out there who bother enough to actually send me reminders. So here we go.
After the turbulences of my first year had settled a bit, I felt confident that I somewhat knew where I was heading to with my PhD. (Amazing! Well done me!) That was enough reason (for me) to book my flights to Disneyland! Well, my Disneyland, the place in California where all the fun research around emotion-regulation evolved. (My excuses for misleading the reader here!).
Emotion regulation is the exciting stuff that we are all made of, and obviously my PhD project as well. Emotions, like some people say, distinguish us from all the other species on this planet. They guide our behaviour, motivate us to achieve goals, help us make decisions and create the vital bonds that have made humans survive for millions of years. This sounds great, doesn’t it? Emotions, however, can also be our worst enemies. Ask a person with anxieties or a teenager (they experience emotions to a much greater extent than children or adults) they will tell you that emotions can be quite wrecking. Anxiety is paralysing, anger gets them into trouble and love has broken their hearts. Very understandably, intense feelings are stressful and especially if you can’t influence them in the way that you would like to, getting rid of them can sound rather appealing. Unfortunately though, every emotion serves a function and you are actually better off with having them.
Luckily, there are a bunch of strategies that we can use to regulate our feelings. Most of us learn the basics of emotion regulation from the adults around us when we are little. While we grow up, we refine and strengthen these strategies further. Scientist have tried to categorize some of these strategies into good or bad ones (e.g. avoiding a difficult situation vs. prepare for it and have a plan). By now, we know that it is not generally about applying one or the other, but whether the strategy fits the situation. In some situations it is good to be persistent and to work hard on a solution (e.g. finding participants for your research project), in other situations however the same strategy can only make you feel worse (e.g., your partner broke up with you, because s/he found someone else). Our emotions are strongly connected with our thinking and behaviour. The three of them build an interactive triangle and if you change one of them it will have an effect on the others. Hence, people can influence their emotions by either changing their thoughts or their behaviour or both. For instance leaving a scary situation (behaviour) or telling yourself that it will be ok, as you have mastered a scary situation like this before (thoughts), can both help you lower your anxiety.
This may sound very theoretical, but many people, who I have spoken to, find the idea quite enlightening. They catch themselves testing and proving the theory in real life and soon start feeling more confident about their feelings.
Knowing how to regulate feelings, can be very empowering. Hence, I want every young person to know that everyone who has feelings also has the power to change them effectively!
With this in mind I flew to California last September and visited various emotion regulation labs at UC Riverside and UC Berkeley. I shared my thoughts with them, presented my work and benefited a lot from the environment. A couple of weeks later, I returned to Europe, where I spoke to young people, mental health professionals, parents and teachers about “emotion regulation” and my plan to develop a digital intervention to improve emotion regulation skills. Luckily, they all shared the same excitement with me. Many months later, I am happy to announce that the first prototype of my emotion regulation app “EDA” is ready. I am going to test it with young people over the next few months and will hopefully get some great feedback from them on how to improve the app further.
I won’t tell you just yet about all the great features in the EDA app that I developed with the help of so many talented and great people (a big thank you to all the young people, Mair Perkins, Chris Quinn and Liz Davies). You may read about all of this in my next blog. (Not that I want to encourage anyone to send me any requests)
I admit though, that having something exciting to share makes it a lot easier and has helped reduce my blog-post anxiety. (Can you tell which part of the triangle has been adjusted here?)