Even mild stress can thwart therapeutic measures to control emotions, a team of neuroscientists at New York University has found. Their findings, which appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, point to the limits of clinical techniques while also shedding new light on the barriers that must be overcome in addressing afflictions such as fear or anxiety.
“We have long suspected that stress can impair our ability to control our emotions, but this is the first study to document how even mild stress can undercut therapies designed to keep our emotions in check,” said Elizabeth Phelps, a professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science and the study’s senior author. “In other words, what you learn in the clinic may not be as relevant in the real world when you’re stressed.”
In addressing patients’ emotional maladies, therapists sometimes use cognitive restructuring techniques — encouraging patients to alter their thoughts or approach to a situation to change their emotional response. These might include focusing on the positive or non-threatening aspects of an event or stimulus that might normally produce fear.
But do these techniques hold up in the real world when accompanied by the stress of everyday life? This is the question the researchers sought to answer.
To do so, they designed a two-day experiment in which the study’s participants employed techniques like those used in clinics as a way to combat their fears.
Beedie Savage – President of Quantum Units Education