People use different coping strategies to deal with stressful events, and some people use coping strategies more than others. Three techniques for keeping perspective through the ups and downs of life that have been studied are:
- Mindfulness: Staying aware in the present moment
- Reappraisal: Finding ways of reinterpreting negative events to give them more positive meaning
- Emotion Suppression: Putting negative emotions out of side and out of mind
To learn more about how these strategies work on a day-to-day basis, a team of researchers recently performed a study of 187 participants looking at how use of these strategies affected people’s moods.
Overall, different strategies had different benefits for different people.
Mindfulness helped people keep their emotions balanced in two ways. It both increased people’s levels of positive emotions and decreased their levels of negative emotions.
Emotion suppression turned out to have the exact opposite effect. When people used more emotion suppression, they reported higher levels of negative emotions and lower levels of positive emotions.
For reappraisal, the picture was a little more nuanced. For about half the people in the study, reappraisal seemed to be of no use in regulating their negative emotions. Overall, appraisal tended to be more helpful for people who were older: for older participants, using appraisal was associated with lower levels of negative emotions while for adolescents, it was linked to higher levels of negative emotions!
These results indicate that there’s no one-size-fits-all coping strategy that works for everyone. Finding whatever way of dealing with stressful situations works best for you is the way to go.
That said, some strategies seem like promising places to look. Mindfulness is an especially promising candidate while for many emotion suppression will do more harm than good. And reappraisal? You’ve probably got about a fifty-fifty chance on that one.