Stress makes it harder to control emotions
A study from researchers at New York University suggests that mild stress in everyday life may prevent coping strategies for conditions such as social anxiety, from being all that effective. The findings suggest that certain therapies that teach people how to better regulate their emotions actually may not prove to be so useful in the real world.
In the study, 78 participants viewed pictures of snakes and spiders. Some pictures were paired with an electric shock, and participants eventually developed a fear of these pictures. Next, the participants were taught therapeutic strategies, such as those used in clinics, to reduce the fear induced by these pictures. The next day, participants were randomly assigned to either place their hands in icy water for three minutes (a technique used in experiments to induce mild stress), or to place their hands in warm water. Those who placed their hands in warm water showed a reduced fear response when they viewed the pictures of snakes and spiders, indicating that the participants were able to use the techniques they'd learned the previous day to control their emotions. However, those who placed their hands in icy water showed no reduction in fear compared to the previous day.
The prefrontal cortex in the brain helps us regulate our emotions. Researchers suggest that when we are in a stressful situation, that area of the brain may already be stimulated and not able to help with cognitive regulation. So what should you do? Practice cognitive regulation strategies until they become second nature and you won't have to rely on so much effort from your brain when you're in a stressful situation.