Emotion regulation in the recovery from Emotional stress, its impact on Sleep and Wellbeing.
One of the central goals of our research is to define a functional approach to the underlying mechanisms and functions of emotion processing and emotion regulation in healthy daily life and existential wellbeing. The focus lies on both risk and resilience in processing negative events and on which processes make some individuals particularly vulnerable to negative life events, while others appear to be relatively resilient. Developmental influences such as life stress by negative life events may impact the development of these individual differences in how one reacts to negative life events, determining plasticity of the brain: its neuronal vulnerability, and somatic and psychological health in general (Vandekerckhove, 2005). In particular, this relates critically to emotion processing and emotion regulation processes and corresponding top-down and bottom-up processes throughout the course of life but also in clinical practice and psychotherapy within the recovery from an emotional arousing experience on mental and physical health and well being. Factors that moderate the emotional state during the day, such as, dispositional, instructed and trained emotion regulation may help the individual to regain emotional balance. In the literature, different approaches of emotion regulation have been found to have distinct consequences on the stress response. Until now, abundant research has mainly demonstrated the adaptiveness of cognitive top down emotion regulation strategies, such as cognitive reappraisal, involving the reinterpretation of the stressor to feel better (Gross, 1998). In our line of research, we aim to validate the complementary working of bottom up experiential emotion regulation to cognitive top down approaches.
Bottom-up Experiential versus Top down Cognitive Emotion Regulation
In the present research, we aim to investigate a bottom-up experiential approach of emotion regulation (Vandekerckhove et al., 2012), versus top down cognitive emotion regulation such as cognitive reappraisal. In experiential emotion regulation, the focus lies on the here and now bodily felt affective experiences as an adaptive signalling mechanism. Stemming from humanistic experiential psychotherapy and theory (Rogers, 1957; Gendlin, 1973; Greenberg & Vandekerckhove, 2008), central to the experiential emotion regulation approach is the facilitation of the access and exploration of the bodily felt affective experience as a source of meaning of ongoing daily events (Vandekerckhove et al., 2012) and as we assume, existential meaning and well being in the long term.
A challenging research question here is not just how can we help to get insight in how individuals recover from stressful experiences and life events, but also, how can we make children, adolescents and adults more resilient and plastic in the future by helping them to regulate their emotions and be less selective for negative information, rather more open and attentive for positive information.
Multidisciplinary and multimethod approach
This fundamental research on these regulatory mechanisms is realized by experimental behavioral and qualitative research, polysomnography, and brain methods.