The Impact of Stacking Emotional Granularity with Breath and Vision Practice on Arousal Levels, Autotelic Personality Traits and Flow

 
 

Hypothesis

Stacking emotional granularity with a breath practice and vision practice (B/V) can impact stress, energy and productivity levels in real time and over the long term.

By undertaking this month long study, participants may see an uptick in their overall subjective evaluation of autotelic personality traits and flow.

Abstract

The American Psychological Association stated that 75% of adults reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the past month and that stress is a top health concern for U.S. teens between 9th and 12th grades. The American Institute of Stress estimates that job stress costs the U.S. industry more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal and insurance costs. The Regus Group reported that stress levels in the workplace are rising with 6 in 10 workers in major global economies experiencing increased workplace stress. Medibank reports that stress has caused the Australian work economy around $14.2 billion, while Lifeline Australia reports that 91% of adult Australians feel stress in at least one important area of their lives. And the World Health Organization reported that depression is among the leading causes of disability worldwide. This data clearly shows that stress and depression are issues that transcend country and age, and the World Health Organization includes that fewer than 25% of those with depression worldwide have access to effective treatments.

It is anecdotally  reported that people who do not choose to participate in a practice to help them alleviate stress is twofold: lack of time and understanding. The aim of this study is to use practices that can be conducted in a short period of time, and that they can be accomplished with very little instruction.

Research by Dr. Lisa Feldman-Barrett suggests that using emotional granularity, or identifying more specifically with what you are feeling, and using more specific language to characterize those feelings, can play a role in helping to lessen the impact of the feelings and sensations in our body, and also can help to lessen the length of time we may feel stuck in that emotional space. Applied research by Dr. Andrew Huberman as well as Brian McKenzie also suggest that it is possible to shift our arousal levels, either hypoarousal or hyperarousal to a more optimal state using breath and vision practices.

This study is an attempt to measure, both subjectively and through biofeedback, the impact that stacking emotional granularity with breath and vision has for those who may be experiencing non-optimal levels of stress, energy and overall productivity. The aim of the study is to test out the protocol with subjects who are, generally speaking, in high-functioning positions within society. The goal of the study is to produce more research studies that include a wider array of humans, in various socio-economic classes and around the globe. The emphasis is on creating a scientifically tested treatment option that is available to the majority of people on the planet, applied in a short period of time, in many if not most environments. In other words, accessable, scaleable and open sourced.

 

“Research by Dr. Lisa Feldman-Barrett suggests that using emotional granularity, or identifying more specifically with what you are feeling, and using more specific language to characterize those feelings, can play a role in helping to lessen the impact of the feelings and sensations in our body, and also can help to lessen the length of time we may feel stuck in that emotional space.”

 

 
 
 

Participants

N = 14

Participants ranged in age from 18 to 65. All participants are high-functioning and most hold leadership roles within the business and sport sectors. Occupations include: collegiate coach, venture capitalist, chief technology officer, business owner, sport psychologist, medical doctor, educator, executive, social worker. Other roles include: Pre-med student and Division I tennis player.  The original participant group was 20; six did not complete week one and their data was removed.

 

Methodology

Participants were recruited to partake in a 30 day study. They were educated in installing and using Welltory to track Stress, Energy and Productivity. The info video that Welltory created was used to instruct participants on how to conduct a measurement. A YouTube video was created instructing participants on how to categorize readings (pre and post) as well as send data (links in Figure 1).

Next, participants were trained in three practices. Each consisted of one breath protocol and one vision protocol. They were labeled as:

  • Calm

  • Energy

  • Stable

Calm consisted of a 4:2:8:2 breath ratio, with a soft or horizon gaze. Energy consisted of a 1:1 breath ratio, with a fixed focal point. Stable consisted of 4:4:4:4 ratio, with the option of soft, focused, or closed eyes.

Instruction was done via YouTube (links in Figure 1), with details included:

  • how to sit properly

  • how to breathe through the nose

  • how to use the proper vision protocol

  • how many breath cycles to complete

The daily practice consisted of the following steps (Figure 1):

  • Welltory reading, labeled “pre”

  • Emotional ID survey and B/V practice selection

  • Perform B/V practice for a specified cycle

  • Another Welltory reading labeled “post”

Welltory measured stress, energy, and productivity using heart rate variability data. The Emotional ID survey  included 45 emotional descriptors spanning each of the four quadrants of James A. Russell’s circumplex. Participants also were required to choose a B/V practice they would perform and perform a designated cycle of repetitions. Finally, participants would do another Welltory reading, labeled as post after completion of the B/V practice. Participants were instructed  to do this practice 5 out of 7 days each week, preferably during work.

In addition to measuring the effects of B/V + E ID on HRV reading (Welltory), the study also looked to measure each participant’s Autotelic Personality Traits - by completing a subjective Likert survey at the beginning of the study (to serve as a baseline measurement), and each week thereafter. Traits surveyed include:

  • Curiosity

  • Persistence

  • Lack of Self Centeredness

  • Autonomy

  • Collaboration

In addition, participants completed the nine question Flow Scale Inventory at the beginning of the study, and each week thereafter, which also served as a baseline measurement.  

Data was collected in Week 1 and used as a baseline. The remaining weeks (2 to 5) were grouped together. The study looked to measure the delta between the two scores.

 
 

Summary of Results

323 total Welltory readings were collected and analyzed. Figures 3 and Figures 4 detail the mean data for pre and post readings and disaggregate before and after the median of the 323 readings.

The difference between pre and post readings before and after the median shows only a small amount of change, with a slight improvement in most areas toward Welltory’s recommended metrics for stress, energy and productivity levels. The only metric that moved away from the recommended metrics was after-median post score for stress. But that was already in the recommended zone, and it remained there, even after the slight change. Overall, the scores did not indicate significant movement in shifting state, but that may be because participants’ average scores were in optimal states during the initial Welltory measurement.

Results for participants’ self reporting during the study include:

  • Most commonly reported emotional ID descriptors: 25% Relaxed & Contended, 17.8% Happy & Satisfied,16.4% Tired

  • B/V practice chosen: 44.7% Calming, 32.3% Stable, 23% Energizing

  • Accuracy of emotional ID label: very accurate 72.8%, accurate 17.9%, neutral 8.9%, inaccurate 0.4%, very inaccurate 0%

The most significant changes occurred in the Autotelic and Flow Surveys (Likert Scale of 19 questions). On autotelic questions, the overall mean increased over time from 3.46 in week one, 3.56 in weeks 2-4, and continued to increase to 3.67 in the final survey upon completion of the month. On the Flow Inventory Survey, the overall mean for participants increased over time from 3.44 in week 1, 3.67 in weeks 2-4, and 3.88 in the final survey. This indicates that there may be some impact on flow state and autotelic traits by developing a habit of HRV + E ID + B/V practice.

Out of the metrics studied in the Likert scale survey, the area that did not show positive improvement was:

  • Autonomy

The areas that showed improvement include:

  • Flow

  • Curiosity

  • Collaboration

  • Low Self-Centeredness

Inconclusive areas (with differing impacts in the positive and negatively stated questions)  include:

  • Persistence


References

Barrett, Lisa Feldman. 2017. How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain. HMH Books. Kindle Edition.

Baumann, Nicola. 2012. Autotelic Personality. In: Engeser, Stefan (eds) Advances in Flow Research. Springer, New York, NY

Baumann, Nicola, Kaschel, Reiner, Kuhl, Julius. 2007. Affect sensitivity and affect regulation in dealing with positive and negative affect. Journal of Research in Personality, 41, 239-248.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. 1990. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

David, Susan. 2016. Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck. Embrace Change. And Thrive in Work and Life. Penguin Random House. Kindle Edition.

Donaldson, Jason. 2019. Controlling State Before An Event With Your Breath. Retrieved from https://powerspeedendurance.com/video-library/?type=demo&topic=breathe#single/0

Huberman, Andrew. FGP Coaching Certification, 2019.

Huberman, Andrew. 2019. Introduction to State Control {Webinar}. Retrieved from https://powerspeedendurance.com/product/state-control-webinar/

Kotler, Steven. “Flow Triggers 2.0.” FGP Coaching Certification, 2019.

Mackenzie, Brian, Galpin, Andy, White, Phil. 2017. Unplugged. Victory Belt Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Porges, Stephen, W. 2011. The Polyvagal Theory. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Kindle Edition.

Sullivan, John, Parker, Chris. 2016. The Brain Always Wins: Improving your life through better brain management. Urbane Publications Limited. Kindle Edition.