Emotion Regulation Strategies in Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms in Youth: A Meta-Analytic Review

J Youth Adolesc. 2017 Feb;46(2):261-276. doi: 10.1007/s10964-016-0585-0. Epub 2016 Oct 12.


The role of emotion regulation in subclinical symptoms of mental disorders in adolescence is not yet well understood. This meta-analytic review examines the relationship between the habitual use of prominent adaptive emotion regulation strategies (cognitive reappraisal, problem solving, and acceptance) and maladaptive emotion regulation strategies (avoidance, suppression, and rumination) with depressive and anxiety symptoms in adolescence. Analyzing 68 effect sizes from 35 studies, we calculated overall outcomes across depressive and anxiety symptoms as well as psychopathology-specific outcomes. Age was examined as a continuous moderator via meta-regression models. The results from random effects analyses revealed that the habitual use of all emotion regulation strategies was significantly related to depressive and anxiety symptoms overall, with the adaptive emotion regulation strategies showing negative associations (i.e., less symptoms) with depressive and anxiety symptoms whereas the maladaptive emotion regulation strategies showed positive associations (i.e., more symptoms). A less frequent use of adaptive and a more frequent use of maladaptive emotion regulation strategies were associated with depressive and anxiety symptoms comparably in the respective directions. Regarding the psychopathology-specific outcomes, depressive and anxiety symptoms displayed similar patterns across emotion regulation strategies showing the strongest negative associations with acceptance, and strongest positive associations with avoidance and rumination. The findings underscore the relevance of adaptive and also maladaptive emotion regulation strategies in depressive and anxiety symptoms in youth, and highlight the need to further investigate the patterns of emotion regulation as a potential transdiagnostic factor.

Keywords: Adaptive; Emotion regulation strategies; Maladaptive; Meta-analysis; Psychopathologies; Youth.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Emotions
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders of Childhood / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Problem Solving
  • Psychopathology
  • Repression, Psychology*
  • Resilience, Psychological