Emotional Appraisal Can Alleviate Anxiety

One of the most effective methods for dealing with emotional arousal is emotional reappraisal. This technique involves taking an initial emotional response and re-evaluating it in such a way to diffuse its impact. For people with posttraumatic stress (PTSD) and other anxiety issues, threats, fears, and worries are often the first response when presented with an emotionally negative cue. This results in avoidance, withdrawal, and increased anxiety symptoms.

Learning how to reappraise those emotional responses can alleviate anxious symptoms. The neurological mechanisms involved in emotional reappraisal are located in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Research on anxiety has suggested that this area of the brain is impaired in individuals with anxiety and therefore limits their ability to perform emotional reappraisals.

Manber T. Ball of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Diego wanted to test this theory further because research into PFC activation is unclear. Some research suggests hyperactivation, while other studies indicate hypo-activation. Ball chose to examine PFC activation in a sample of 18 individuals with panic (PD), 23 with generalized anxiety (GAD) and 22 with no history of anxiety-related conditions as controls (HC). Ball administered magnetic resonance imaging of the participants while they completed a reappraisal task based on negative images. The participants also reported their frequency of emotional reappraisal during daily life.

The results revealed that the participants with GAD used reappraisal techniques least often in daily life and that led to higher levels of anxiety and lower quality of life. During the study task, participants with both PD and GAD had similarly low levels of PFC activation compared to the HC participants. This low level of activation was directly associated with higher levels of anxiety and functional difficulty.

Ball believes that these findings clearly show that anxiety-related issues are related to PFC impairment, yet this study cannot clearly determine if anxiety is the cause or the result of the PFC impairment. Ball also points out that although only reappraisal was examined in this study, other subclassifications of reappraisal, including detachment and emotional shifting, should also be tested. Ball added, “A better grasp of the processes employed is important in moving past simply examining differences in activation location and intensity, and towards a more nuanced and mechanistic understanding.”

Ball, T. M., et al. (2013). Prefrontal dysfunction during emotion regulation in generalized anxiety and panic disorders. Psychological Medicine 43.7 (2013): 1475-86. ProQuest. Web.

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  • linda

    June 29th, 2013 at 12:25 AM

    interesting to see there is difference in the brain in those with panic disorder…because I always thought it is only the nature of the person that make it so.this somewhat shows the panicking could well be out of their control…sort of an involuntary process!

  • Nikki

    July 1st, 2013 at 4:37 AM

    Do you really think that someone who is feeling so much emotional anxiety in the moment is really going to have the ability to step back from the moment and do an apprisal of the situation? I am not so sure about that, or it might take a lot of training to get someone who is feeling all of this to a point where he is strong enough to do this on his own.

  • Jenny Belgarde

    July 2nd, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    I got anxiety after going through a separation and now I’m better. Does that mean my brain has healed itself? Also does this mean that anxiety can’t be cured?

  • Trish

    July 12th, 2013 at 12:53 PM

    My abuse started in infancy with hitting, sexual abuse started at the age of 2, everyday of my life was a nightmare. I can’t imagine my brain had an opportunity to become normal. I live in a high state if anxiety, even when there is absolutely nothing threatening me. I can go for years and talk myself through it, but it always manages to catch me. It is so frustrating. I believe the brain can relearn, I just wonder how long it will take. At age 57 I am guessing the rest of my life, which is better then giving up.

  • Dr Bryan Knight

    July 12th, 2013 at 5:06 PM

    You might find my free treatment protocol helpful.

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