What should we do when we’re upset or depressed? Should we analyze our feelings to figure out what’s wrong, or should we just forget about them and move on? Opinions differ, but new research suggests a solution to these questions: taking a more Buddhist or Taoist approach, rather than a Western model of psychotherapy.
In a series of studies providing the first experimental evidence for a new way of dealing with negative emotions, University of Michigan psychologists, along with colleagues from the University of California, Berkeley, maintain that the best way to move ahead emotionally is to analyze our feelings from a psychologically distanced perspective. How? By using what the researchers term a “thermostat metaphor.” When emotions become overwhelming, researchers say, we should simply dial the emotional temperature down a bit in order to think about the problem rationally and clearly. Taking a mental time-out, sitting back, and trying to review the situation from a distance can be extremely helpful and prevent our being stuck in negativity.
The study participants who were taught self-distancing techniques showed fewer signs of depression, as well as having lower blood pressure and improved cardiovascular recovery from negative emotions, than did the control group that participated in the usual self-immersion and distraction therapies. In the future, researchers hope to expand their self-distancing techniques to help people with anxiety and as a tool to better cope with demanding lives in general.