For over a year and half many communities across the globe have been living with heightened anxiety and a sense of fear. This could feel like being “on edge”, having an uneasy stomach, tension in your body, disrupted sleep, or an overall sense of discomfort and worry.
You’ll be relieved (and maybe even surprised) to hear that amidst everything that is happening, we have the power to CHOOSE to be calm. Going from a state of heightened emotions to a balanced and grounded place is called emotional regulation. Let's explore what emotional regulation is and how we can begin to integrate it into our lives.
Emotional regulation is the ability to exert control over one’s own emotional state. When we can engage in healthy emotional regulation, this can help us be more adaptable to the environment around us and can lead to improved thoughts, attitude, mood, and behaviors.
Let's take Matt for example:
Matt is having a difficult morning. The kids struggle to settle for virtual school, he burns the breakfast toast, and right as he opens his laptop for work ... he spills his coffee on himself. Ouch.
This would cause anyone to feel frustrated and stressed. With limited emotional regulation, Matt may continue to be frazzled, unable to think clearly. He may ruminate on the stress of the morning throughout his day.
On the contrary, with the use of emotional regulation skills, Matt can recognize his stress response, engage in practice to calm his nervous system, invite in emotionally grounding thoughts, and move forward with his day. He may even pour himself a new cup of coffee.
Healthy emotional regulation can help people like Matt not be overtaken by stressful circumstances and rebound and be present in their lives. When we utilize emotional regulation skills, we are able to live more resilient lives and create access to more renewing emotional states like patience and joy and even creativity.
Below you’ll find a few strategies to try out and put into your own “emotional regulation toolbox”.
5 Emotional Regulation Strategies To Try Out:
1. CHOOSE: Apply your power of choice.
You have the choice of how you react to situations. When you engage your power of choice, you begin to control how your mood, emotions, behaviors, and life will be impacted by external circumstances. Practicing choice is an essential skill in practicing emotional regulation.
This is a technique designed by Carol Vivyan. If you are struggling to get your emotions under control, this technique is a great process to follow to manage your emotions more effectively:
- S – Stop
- T – Take A Breath
- O – Observe – your thoughts and feelings
- P- Pull Back – put in some perspective – what is the bigger picture?
- P – Practice What Works – Proceed – what is the best thing to do right now?
3. Don’t Judge Your Emotions
Emotions are often named as “good” or “bad”. This can lead to judging your emotions instead of recognizing and honoring them. Instead, try to explore whether your emotions are depleting or renewing.
Depleting emotions like fear, frustration, and anger can increase tension and prolong the acute stress response in your body. Renewing emotions, like grace, compassion, and courage can regenerate your system, enhance energy, and elevate your mood.
4. Practice Challenging and Reframing
Reframing is helpful to counterbalance the negative self-talk that happens in your mind every day. We naturally lean towards negative self-talk, especially in moments of high stress and anxiety. The negative self-talk can dampen our mood and take us out of the present moment.
We don’t have to let it!
Remember that the negative self talk does not equate to truth. Take the time to challenge it and search for evidence that will prove your negative narrative as untrue. Then develop a narrative that is more truthful and renewing to your well being.
5. Use Your Breath
When we experience unpleasant emotions, we start to breathe faster, our heart rate increases, and we can feel a range of physiological responses in our body. Deep breathing helps calm down the body by controlling the physiological reactions that can help calm our mind. When our body and mind are in more calm states, we are able to access more helpful thoughts and renewing emotions. Here are a few simple steps on how to breathe deeply:
- Inhale slowly through your nose until you can’t take in any more air
- Your stomach should expand. If you’re lying down, place your hand on your belly, and you’ll feel it rise.
- Exhale slowly and completely through your mouth. Make sure you gently exhale, like you would if you were blowing on hot food.
With so much happening in our world, it is easy to feel a loss of control. Although we may be limited to changing the situations that impact us, we have complete control of changing our emotional response. Our emotions have a direct impact on how we experience life and we can choose to not let negative emotions take over our lives.
Remember that emotional regulation skills are learned over time by practicing, recalibrating and practicing again. So be gentle with yourself and know that even in the most stressful moments, you have the power to choose to be calm.
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