Looking for the Silver Lining Works

Anxiety symptoms lessen in adults who use emotional strategy of looking on bright side

(RxWiki News) You've heard all the clichés: look on the bright side, look for the silver lining, see the glass as half full. The thing is, that strategy might actually work if you suffer from anxiety.

A recent study found that healthy adults were less likely to experience anxiety if they commonly reconsidered situations from a different point of view.

About 18 percent of adults in the US have a general or social anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Many who suffer from an anxiety disorder might need treatment with medications and/or therapy. But learning new emotional strategies might help as well.

"Consider cognitive strategies to manage anxiety."

The study, led by Nicole Llewellyn, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, investigated the effects on anxiety of different coping mechanisms.

The researchers analyzed the results of 179 responses from men and women to questionnaires about the way the participants managed their emotions and when they felt anxiety.

The 110 women and 69 men who participated had not been previously diagnosed with neurological, psychiatric or personality disorders.

One of the questionnaires they filled out dealt with positive reinforcement in their lives (such as accomplishing things that motivated them to work harder) and with following rules.

A second questionnaire asked about how the participants dealt with their emotions, such as whether they bottled them up or controlled them by trying to change the way they viewed a situation.

The last questionnaire assessed the participants' anxiety levels in different situations, such as social gatherings or performance anxiety.

The researchers found that respondents who used a strategy called "reappraisal" to manage their emotions tended to have less overall anxiety and social anxiety than those who suppressed their feelings.

Reappraisal basically refers to reframing a situation, looking for the "silver lining."

"When something happens, you think about it in a more positive light, a glass half full instead of half empty," Llewellyn explained in a prepared statement.

"You sort of reframe and reappraise what's happened and think what are the positives about this? What are the ways I can look at this and think of it as a stimulating challenge rather than a problem?" she said in the statement.

That does not mean that reframing every situation is necessary or that sometimes keeping your emotions to yourself is not a good idea.

The authors noted that overly optimistic people may engage in riskier behavior, and sometimes not discussing emotions is more appropriate, such as in work situations.

However, the research does suggest that therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy could help individuals with anxiety.

In cognitive behavioral therapy, individuals learn to recognize their emotions more clearly and adjust how they respond to those emotions.

"This is something you can change," Llewellyn said in the press release. "You can't do much to affect the genetic or environmental factors that contribute to anxiety. But you can change your emotion regulation strategies."

Because the study relied on self-reported answers, it's possible that self-reporting influenced the final results.

Still, the study suggests that teaching people ways to rethink their situations may help reduce anxiety symptoms.

"It may be possible to reduce risk for anxiety by purposefully training individuals to use more constructive and efficient emotional regulation strategies, such as reappraisal," the authors wrote.

This study was published May 13 in the journal Emotion.

The research was funded by a Young Investigator Award from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, a CPRF Award from the Canadian Psychiatric Research Foundation, the University Hospital Foundation and the University of Illinois. No disclosures were noted in the study.

Review Date: 
May 13, 2013