Alexithymia and the anxiolytic effect of endurance running: A painful process.

Lead Research Organisation: Bangor University
Department Name: Sch of Sport Health and Exercise Sci

Abstract

Alexithymia has been strongly linked with anxiety disorders due to the associated emotional dysfunction causing intense anxiety that individuals cannot regulate. This difficulty in regulating anxiety can lead to a dependence on extreme emotion regulation strategies, such as high-risk activities or self-harm. The anxiolytic effect of exercise is well-documented and has been suggested to have an increased emotion regulation function for alexithymic individuals. Extreme endurance running shares characteristics with self-harm in that there is an inherent aspect of self-induced pain. Woodman and Welch (2020) recently provided initial support for the emotion regulation function of endurance running, and the underlying role of pain, for individuals high in alexithymia.
In this project, we aim to further the understanding of the anxiolytic effect of endurance running on alexithymic individuals and the role of pain within this relationship. We also aim to investigate the similarities between pain induced by self-harm and pain in endurance running, and the respective emotion regulation functions.
We will achieve these aims using a both quantitative and qualitative methodologies over the course of several studies. We will replicate the quasi-experimental repeated measures design from the Woodman and Welch (2020) study with limitations addressed to further establish the relationship between anxiety reduction and pain during endurance running for alexithymic individuals. We will then use a phenomenological methodology to understand alexithymic individuals' experiences of the anxiolytic effect of endurance running and their perceptions of the role of pain. Further to this, we will examine alexithymic individuals' experiences of anxiety reduction via self-harm. Common themes and differences may then be drawn between the two forms of emotion regulation to provide an in-depth understanding of the processes that might underlie alexithymic individuals' relationships with pain and their underlying motives for experiencing pain as part of an emotion regulation strategy.This project will provide a valuable contribution to the understanding of emotion regulation in populations at risk of turning to maladaptive coping strategies, such as self-harm, to regulate their emotions. If running can provide a low-risk and accessible emotion regulation strategy for alexithymic individuals, it may help reduce the prevalence of high-risk strategies.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P00069X/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2426507 Studentship ES/P00069X/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2023 Charlotte Grace Welch