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Increases in Emotion Dysregulation, Repetitive Negative Thinking Seen During Pandemic

March 22, 2021

Emotion dysregulation (ED) and repetitive negative thinking (RNT) both rose after the initiation of public health changes associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and remained elevated for months afterward, researchers reported in a poster presented at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America 2021 Virtual Conference.

Their longitudinal study assessed ED and RNT in 269 university students, aged 18 to 21 years, at baseline, 2 weeks later, and 4 weeks later. The students were grouped into 3 cohorts, based on study initiation date.

Overall, the amount of ED experienced by the participants grew over time in which they were assessed. ED was significantly higher in cohort 3, which was assessed from August to October 2020, than in cohort 1, which was assessed in March and April 2020. There was no significant overall difference in RNT, but some increases were seen within and between cohorts.

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The study authors said there is a substantial body of research which shows that ED and RNT in the form of rumination and worry are associated with depression and anxiety symptoms, and “high levels of ED and RNT may underlie the increases in anxiety and depression symptoms observed during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Emotion dysregulation and repetitive negative thinking-focused treatments may help alleviate other mental health symptoms and improve quality of life and coping skills during the pandemic,” they wrote in the poster.

The poster defines ED as “the inability to behave appropriately and according to one’s goals, and/or the inability to limit impulses when experiencing negative emotions, and RNT as “a thought pattern that is difficult to disengage from, repetitive, at least partially intrusive, perceived as unproductive by the thinker, and that captures mental capacity.”

—Terri Airov


Tellez-Monnery K, McDermott MJ. “Emotion dysregulation and repetitive negative thinking during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Poster presented at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America 2021 Virtual Conference; March 18-19, 2021; Virtual.

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