How individuals differentially implement specific emotion regulation (ER) strategies is a critical indicator of the progression of depressive and anxiety disorders. Symptoms of anxiety and depression may be associated with differences in ER, but little evidence to date had examined whether anxiety and depression were associated with individual differences in the real-time use of ER strategies.
This study used ecological momentary assessment (EMA) in two samples (n = 276) of undergraduate students from a single university who were assessed for 8–10 days. Baseline surveys captured participant self-reported anxiety symptoms and depressive symptoms using the PROMIS-Anxiety scale and the PROMIS-Depression scale, respectivel. We measured ER through EMA-adapted prompts from the Cognitive Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (CERQ), which participants received on their internet-enabled cell phones. In pre-registered analyses, we tested the associations between anxiety symptoms with the use of discrete ER strategies in EMA using generalized estimating equations with a log-link function to account for nesting of EMA observations within participants, and further tested whether the findings generalized to depression (not pre-registered).
Symptoms of anxiety and depression were associated with greater odds of using both maladaptive and adaptive ER strategy use during the EMA period, and with lower odds of reporting no strategy use. Moreover, associations were generally stronger for maladaptive than adaptive ER strategies.
Anxiety and depressive symptoms are related to increased regulatory efforts overall, and results suggest that individuals with anxiety and depressive symptoms may be especially prone to use maladaptive ER Strategies. Tracking ER strategies in a natural environment can further inform our understanding of how anxious and depressed individuals attempt to regulate emotions.