Only Stressed a Little? It May As Well Be a Lot

Did you know that even a little stress can make it hard to get your emotions under control? That's the outcome of a new study, that's found that even mild stress "can thwart therapeutic measures" to keep from getting emotional, according to a team of neuroscientists at New York University.

As reports, this points to the limits of clinical techniques, and creates bigger hurdles for those trying to deal with "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,” quotes 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.”

Many therapists use what is called a "cognitive therapy" approach to patients' problems.  This simply means helping you to think about things in a new way.  I, for one, can vouch for its success!  The idea behind it is to help people "alter their thoughts or change 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 really work, me aside?

Researchers tried an experiment with people who were terrified of snakes and spiders, showing them photos of each -- stressful for anyone, but especially those who have this kind of phobia.  One group was given cognitive therapy, another was not.  The group which received the therapy --  helped in thinking about snakes and spiders in a different way -- not surprisingly, were able to temper their fear.  But the second group could not.

 Now granted, this is not the kind of stress we face in everyday life.  We're not talking divorce, or job loss, or even road rage.  But even mild stress such as looking at pictures of something that frightens us can interfere with our daily functioning, the study found.

“Our results suggest that even mild stress, such as that encountered in daily life, may impair the ability to use cognitive techniques known to control fear and anxiety,” quotes Candace Raio, a doctoral student in NYU’s Department of Psychology and the study’s lead author. “However, with practice or after longer intervals of cognitive training, these strategies may become more habitual and less sensitive to the effects of stress.”



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