Emotion regulation has been identified as an influential component of developing and maintaining mental illness, as it requires one to respond to their emotions in a socially acceptable and flexible way, and control inappropriate emotional reactions. Emotional awareness is the initial step in the process of emotion regulation, as it involves the ability to identify and label the emotions one is feeling inside (i.e., sadness, anger, happiness). Emotional awareness begins to develop around the age of eight and continues to flourish throughout adolescence. Although preschool-aged children can say what emotion they are experiencing, older children have a larger vocabulary of feeling words and are more capable of reflecting on the emotional experience.
Individuals who ruminate, avoid, ignore, deny, or suppress their emotions are more likely to experience anxious or depressive symptoms, as these are unhealthy ways of dealing with emotions. These people are considered to have a low baseline of emotional awareness as they tend to have limited or ineffective coping strategies of dealing with their feelings. Baseline can be considered as the average, everyday level of functioning. Those with a higher baseline of emotional awareness have a greater ability to identify and label the emotions they are experiencing and have more adaptive coping skills to manage their negative feelings.
In a study of youth, ages 7-16, who completed questionnaires of emotional awareness, depressive symptoms, and anxiety symptoms at baseline, low baseline emotional awareness predicted both anxious and depressive symptoms across a one-year period. These findings suggest that emotional awareness may be a transdiagnostic factor that chronically maintains a mental illness. In simpler words, it is a feature found to predict and sustain symptoms of anxiety and depression across many mental disorders.
Emotional awareness training may be a beneficial element to psychological treatment for teens experiencing anxiety and depression. This will likely include teaching youth a rich emotional vocabulary and ways to identify how their body is feeling when experiencing a particular emotion. By building emotional awareness and coping skills, it is expected for the individual to experience greater self-control over their emotions and fewer anxious and depressive symptoms.