Miércoles, 20 Noviembre 2019 07:48

In pursuit of the mechanisms that explain anxiety

Professor Esperanza García at the Faculty of Education (University of Córdoba) Professor Esperanza García at the Faculty of Education (University of Córdoba)

A University of Cordoba researcher analyzed how metacognitive beliefs and emotional dysregulation determine symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Anxiety is a mental disorder that affects a large part of the population nowadays. In 2011, more than 61 million people in Europe were affected, so understanding these kinds of disorders in order to apply more appropriate treatments is a common goal among professionals in the fields of clinical and academic psychology.

Two specific characteristics define Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): excessive worry and an intense anxiety response that causes emotional unease. This brings about symptoms such as fatigue, irritability or trouble falling asleep.

In pursuit of mechanisms that explain GAD, Psychology Department researcher Esperanza García Sancho, along with researchers from the University of Malaga and Complutense University of Madrid, analyzed metacognitive beliefs and emotional dysregulation as psychological variables in order to more accurately explain the specific path that leads to a person developing GAD.

Metacognitive beliefs are beliefs that a person has about their own mental processes. For instance, if a person is aware that s/he is worried, and regards this worry as something positive and useful that helps him/her be alert, this person has positive metacognitive beliefs. However, if the lines are blurred, the level of worry can increase and turn into something negative, meaning a person could regard this worry as being harmful and hard to control. That is when a person begins to activate negative metacognitive beliefs, regarding said worry as something negative for him/her. The other variable studied, emotional dysregulation, implies difficulty when managing emotions.

These two lines of research were studied separately in order to explain Generalized Anxiety Disorder. In García Sancho’s study, both variables were integrated to see how they are related within a person suffering from GAD and to see how the disorder’s symptoms of worry and anxiety can be explained.

After analyzing a sample of over 700 people, metacognitive beliefs were determined to be closely related to worry, but they also influence symptoms that are most associated with anxiety, as in, metacognitive beliefs coming into play in two essential aspects of GAD: worry and emotional unease. Nevertheless, the variable of emotional dysregulation is more related to anxiety response and not so much to worry.

This research has a high transfer component since understanding the path that GAD takes allows for better assessing the disorder and for designing a more appropriate treatment for each patient. So if a person suffering from GAD has a higher level of worry, clinical psychology could opt to use therapy focused more on metacognitive beliefs, as the study revealed the relationship between worry and these beliefs. If, on the other hand, there are more emotional anxiety symptoms, treatment could center more on emotional regulation. 

These kinds of assessments and interventions of these variables are also assessed and worked on at the University of Cordoba Psychological Support Service, a free service for members of the university community.

Salguero, J.M., Ramos-Cejudo, J. &García-Sancho, E. J (2019) Metacognitive Beliefs and Emotional Dysregulation Have a Specific Contribution on Worry and the Emotional Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Cognitive Therapy 12: 179. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41811-019-00048-4


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