The Longitudinal Effect of Emotion Regulation Strategies on Anxiety Levels in Children and Adolescents

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology


Anxiety, Mindfulness- and acceptance-based treatments, Children and adolescents, Emotion regulation, Longitudinal


There is growing evidence linking emotion dysregulation to anxiety. However, few studies have examined this relationship longitudinally or developmentally. Additionally, no studies have specifically examined the predictive relevance of the emotion regulation skills taught in mindfulness- and acceptance-based therapies. We explore whether specific emotion regulation processes differentially predict specific anxiety symptoms over time among children and adolescents. Methods: Initial emotion non-awareness, nonacceptance, and difficulties with goal-directed behavior were assessed in a community sample (n = 312, age range = 8–16, mean age = 11.68, 59% female, 69% Caucasian). Social anxiety, separation anxiety, and physical anxiety symptoms were assessed every 3 months for 3 years. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to examine the concurrent and longitudinal effects of emotion dysregulation assessed at baseline or 18 months on anxiety. Results: After controlling for depression, age, and gender, all three processes concurrently predicted physical and social anxiety, and all but nonacceptance predicted separation anxiety. Only difficulties with goal-directed behavior, however, predicted longitudinal change in separation anxiety over time with covariates. Additionally, emotion non-awareness and difficulties with goal-directed behavior predicted subsequent changes in social anxiety. Conclusions: Emotion dysregulation may serve as a potential risk factor for the development of anxiety symptoms among youth. It may be beneficial to target reductions in maladaptive strategies in prevention or intervention work.

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