Sometimes, I feel as if I could scream or go crazy when emotions get the better of me. Emotions are far stronger than rational thought and it can be tricky to keep calm when it feels like your world is spinning out of control. This is why we often act in ways that we know aren’t good for us – gambling too much, overeating or engaging in random meaningless sex that we really don’t want.
If only it was easier to stop and think and let our rational minds take over. I wish it was that easy. There are ways to help though, they aren’t 100% foolproof but I have tried them and they can help to reduce self destructive behaviour or calm us and help us to regulate our emotions far better than if we did nothing…
Get back in the room, be present in the “now”. When we engage our 5 senses we have less brain capacity to worry endlessly and make ourselves feel worse.
Try this: look around the room and look for 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste (if possible). This is an exercise in mindfulness. Wherever you are, if your thoughts are causing you to spiral down into an abyss of misery, try bring your focus back to the present moment.
Mindfulness – breathing
Try the “square method” when you feel stressed out. When we take deep breaths we send messages to our brain that we are relaxed. This confuses the old brain (hypothalamus and amygdala) as we should be breathing quickly if we are stressed. This sends a signal to the old brain that there is not threat and can cause our whole body to relax.
Imagine the top part of a square – breathe in and count to 4, now down one side of the square, hold for 4, across the bottom, breathe out for 4, up the other side, hold for 4.
Acknowledge the source of your stress is most likely your thoughts about the stressful event rather than the stressful event itself. Problem solve if possible, mentally shelve what can’t be done right away and then distract yourself. Watch a funny movie, see a friend or listen to good music – anything that takes your mind off it. If it is something you can’t control, try to distract yourself.
Always ask yourself if there is another way to look at the problem. Are you being balanced with your thinking? Be wary of believing everything you think!
Learning Emotion Regulation skills will help us learn to effectively manage and change the way we feel and cope with situations.
Emotions, thoughts and what we do or feel an urge to do (behaviours) are all linked and become vicious cycles. Changing one part of the cycle will help improve the situation and help you feel better.
Emotion causes us to react and move in certain ways. Each emotion has an “Action Urge” – the automatic urge we feel. We can use Opposite Action skill to help us make a more helpful and positive response and outcome.
What am I REALLY reacting to?
What is it that is really pushing my buttons here?
What is it that I think is going to happen?
What is the worst (and best) that could happen? What is most likely to happen?
Am I getting things out of proportion?
How important is this really? How important will it be in 6 months time?
What harm has actually been done?
Am I expecting something from this person or situation that is unrealistic?
Am I overestimating the danger?
Am I underestimating my ability to cope?
What advice would I give to someone else in this situation?
Am I spending time ruminating about the past or worrying about the future? What could I do right now that would help me feel better?
What advice would I give someone else in this situation?
How would someone else see this situation? What’s the bigger picture?
What would be the consequences of responding the way I usually do?
Is there another way of dealing with this? What would be the most helpful and effective action to take? (for me, for the situation, for the other person)
- Image Manipulation
Sometimes we can get horribly distressing intrusive images that just pop into our heads, and we have trouble getting rid of them again. The image may be based on a real memory, or just some random terrible image. These images can trigger strong physical sensations, and intense emotions of fear, dread, anger or sadness.We can learn to manipulate the image so that we reduce the distressing feelings:Imagine putting the image on a TV screen. Now with an imaginary remote control, make the image smaller, making it more distant, perhaps turn it into black and white, remove the sound or give it a different soundtrack.
Imagine a plate or sheet of strong clear plastic and put it between your face and the image. Push that image away from your face, until it gets smaller and is further away.
Try the above techniques and you will see an improvement in the control your emotions have over you. Anything that you can do to break that association between your intense emotions and the subsequent negative behaviour the better.