I just ran across an interesting article in the journal Psychological Science, by Todd Kashdan and several co-authors. They focused on the fact that some people are able to describe the emotions they’re feeling in specific categories (sad, anxious, etc.) while others simply describe feeling good vs. bad. They hypothesized that people who are better at describing their emotions might be less likely to “self-medicate” with alcohol, and studied drinking behavior in a group of underage “social drinkers.” They found that people with intense negative emotions who were better at describing their emotions consumed less alcohol than their counterparts who relied on more global descriptions of emotions.

So how does this relate to resilience? Well, the skill of emotion regulation is an important element of resilience. People who are better able to manage their emotions are better able to move through the adaptation process rather than getting bogged down in negative feelings. One of the ways that people seek to regulate their emotions is to use substances like drugs and alcohol in an attempt to feel better. While there may be some short-term benefits to this strategy, it’s generally not a good approach in the long run. The study cited here suggests that people who are better able to differentiate their emotions may be less likely to rely on maladaptive strategies for dealing with their emotions. In turn, this suggests that helping people learn to understand, identify, and articulate their own emotions may be a building block of resilience.