As human begins, we may never have complete control over what we feel, but we do have a lot more influence over how we feel than you might have been told. Adults are expected to be able to manage their emotions – especially strong negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, and anger. Yet all of us have experienced instances where we’ve become overwhelmed with emotions and not felt as if we could control our actions around those feelings. We may in those instances act in a regrettable fashion, not go to an event where we were expected, miss the opportunity to travel, lashed out at a friend or family member.
How do we learn to keep our emotions in check? The key is emotional regulation and learning emotional self- regulation techniques. These skills allow you to manage your emotional reactions to the world. These are the skills of people who respond with emotion to a situation but do not continue to harbour or escalate those emotions beyond the initial expression (except in the case of bereavement where prolonged emotion may be expected). You can assess your self-regulation abilities in online tools (http://sciences.ucf.edu/psychology/myemotions-hxus/) which explains two important components of regulation – your ability to frame and reframe around your emotions (reappraisal) and your tendencies to supress emotion rather than express it (suppression).
If you have difficulty regulating your emotions you may need to utilise short term and longer-term sustainable solutions
Short term solutions.
Opportunities to create a quick sense of calm may be helpful to utilise when you are feeling strong negative emotions (https://reddoor.hk/2019/03/13/achieving-quick-calm/) including breathing, repeating mantras, drinking water, colouring, journaling, listening to music, counting, exercise and stretching.
One strategy that can help you in the heat of the moment may be to utilise the STOPP tool outlined by psychologist Carol Vivyan. Essentially the STOPP is a mnemonic to remind you to.
S: Pause, take a break, slow down the events that are unfolding
T: take a breath.
O: Observe yourself, the situation, your reactions, your expectations of others.
P: Look at the situation from a matter of perspective – is this really an emergency, is action really required right now, will it be better for you to walk away from the situation or stay engaged.
P: Proceed with caution. Choosing to no react will help maintain your reputation and credibility. Walk away if you can.
Sustainable changes for long-term emotional regulation
To deal with to deal with emotional regulation include understanding and labelling emotions, exploring thought patterns, practicing mindfulness and cognitive reframing. Build long term reflection skills.
Emotional monitoring Emotional monitoring is the backbone of mindfulness study. There are many tools to help people correctly identify and label emotions, whilst separating those that are primary emotions (those that occur immediately in reaction to an event) from those that are secondary – your reactions to the primary emotions, or emotions that linger longer because of thought patterns.
Physical experiences such as tension, butterflies in the stomach, headache, clenched jaw are observed and recorded. Correctly helping identify the expression and experience of an emotion helps the client associate particular thoughts patterns associated with those emotions, or simply help them notice that they feel emotions they thought they had “lost”. Many people confuse feeling anxious with feeling angry and hence respond by lashing out, rather than behaviours that may help them calm down.
Thought patterns are essential to associate with certain emotions. These thought patterns may have been learnt over many years and may include catastrophising (this is the worst thing ever!), negative comparisons (She is so cool, I am such a loser), and mind reading (see my blog on common thinking errors). Essentially people are taught to catch these thinking patterns in action and reflect upon them from alternative perspectives. They may be asked to keep a log of negative events and how they felt about those events so that they can be discussed in terms of creating a more rational perspective on the situation being reviewed.
Some of the specific tools to assess emotional regulation (such as the CERQ- the cognitive emotion regulation questionnaire) helps to identify the cognitive strategies and thought patterns that people use in situations. As such you can identify the elements and thought patterns that might me making you feel the way you do.
For example, you may have a specific difficulty to blame yourself when things go wrong, or not accept that something bad has happened. You may find yourself caught up in rumination traps, where you cycle through events again and again to understand your feelings and how you got to this point (even if this is not achievable and the situation are the consequence of other people’s decisions or actions). You may or may not be able to refocus or reappraise the situation in a way that helps you overcome feelings (gaining perspective, seeing that this happens to a lot of people not just you, realise this could not be avoided).
Practicing Mindfulness helps individuals become more aware of their thought patterns, their emotions, their reactions, and the thoughts and feelings that they hold about certain events. Being mindful requires individuals to live in the present, not the past or the future. Taking this approach allows them to assess situations more empathetically with less self-judgment. Skills such as learning to observe, describe and be aware of your surroundings are taught, as well as practice assessing situations from a position of no judgement, being observant, and looking for effective outcomes https://reddoor.hk/2017/07/05/the-making-of-a-focused-mind-the-benefits-of-mindfulness-for-children-and-teens/
Once thought patterns and perspectives have been regularly assessed cognitive reframing and discourse can be utilised to teach a new set of responses. When you catch yourself overreacting to situations, ask yourself, could other outcomes be possible, can you be kinder to yourself in this situation, can you show empathy rather than anger. Create a dialogue that helps you look at yourself in a non-judgemental but still accountable manner. Do not use terms such a “should” or “I must”. Instead use language such as “I can”.
In the long term you may like to create long term reflection building tools. These activities help build not only reflection, but stronger mental health capabilities. Remember practice makes progress. These activities include: writing a journal, meditation, therapy with a counsellor, ensuring you have enough sleep, walking and talking to yourself, and of course, sharing your experiences with close friends.
There is a lot you can do to better manage your emotions and your reactions. Activities such as self-medication (especially through alcohol), self-harm, and escaping into your social persona through internet addiction, do NOT help. If you have been using these behaviours to help you manage strong emotions try some of the recommendations in this article. If you continue to struggle, please consider therapy. Good luck.
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