Emotional states of a person have a direct connection with his or her mental wellbeing. Stress management, life coaching, therapy, counselling — all of these are directed at helping people cope with specific circumstances that cause emotional turmoil. That is why the EQ or emotional quotient becomes as significant as the intelligence quotient, if not more. The ability to recognise and manage one’s own emotions corresponds directly with the ability to read other people’s emotional states and respond appropriately to them. Emotional intelligence guides proper decision making and behaviour. In fact, this correlation is so pronounced that studies have shown people with higher emotionaI intelligence to posess greater mental health, job performance, and leadership skills. And now, another study has revealed that people equipped with greater emotional control have a better chance of keeping depression and anxiety at bay.
Published in the journal Psychological Science, the study states that the ability to control your emotions has a direct correlation with your level of anxiety. “People with lower levels of depression and anxiety vary their emotional control strategy successfully depending on whether the situation can be explained,” says the research. “People with the highest levels of mental health change their strategy more based on how much control they had.”
In other words, the approach for modulating emotions changed on the basis of their ability to change the affecting situation. When they had less control over circumstances, they “reappraise” the situation. Reappraisal involves thinking about a situation in a different way — changing a seemingly negative event into positive by forming positive thoughts about it. We might call it looking for the silver lining, which directly contributes in keeping depression at bay. Even when we exercise least amount of control in a situation, the one thing we can always attempt to control is our mind — our attitude.
Interestingly though, in situations where they had more control — they could do something to change the circumstances — people with greater mental health tended to avoid thinking differently. That’s because when you have the capacity to change an unfavourable situation into a favourable one, the best way forward is to implement that change. In this situation, “reappraisal” would actually backfire — for instead of changing the disturbing situation, you’d only be trying to “think positively”. Positive attitude, in such a case, would not include merely thoughts but actions spurred by a desire for change.
Interestingly, the study’s authors revealed: “We found that people with higher well-being increased their use of reappraisal as contexts became less controllable, whereas individuals with lower well-being showed the opposite pattern.”
That last line shows the diametrically opposite approaches taken by people with higher and lower mental health. While the former increasingly take steps to change a negative situation, invoking reappraisal as a defence mechanism only when there is no way for them to alter the scenario, the latter actually use reappraisal as an escape hatch even in situations where their actions could have brought about positive change.
Ultimately, then, for better mental health, you need adaptive emotional control. When the situation can be changed, it is better to let your emotions — whatever they may be — motivate that change, rather than trying to change the emotions. When the situation can’t be changed, however, it is better to try and change the emotion.
Adaptation, after all, has been the key to survival since the beginning of the planet’s history. Only the fittest remain standing, and in the present age that includes mental fitness as well.
Zehra Naqvi