Most of us have done it. We have walked out on a loved one, slammed a door, said something we regretted or burst into rage or tears. I have been there screaming, “I will go crazy if you don’t do that!” I needed to learn emotional regulation skills. By the way, I did!
We tend to worry too much, resent too much, complain too much, and feel angry too much. Toddlers are known for their temper tantrums and teen-agers are known for their sullenness or screeching “I hate you!” Regrettably, some times, some adults are also known for not managing their emotions.
Researchers at The Heart Math Institute, Dr Bruce Perry, who works with traumatized children, and the late Dr Al Siebert, the resiliency researcher, have developed methods to help us regulate our emotions and, consequently, our behaviors.
What is Emotional Regulation?
It is a means to adapt our thoughts and help calm our,feelings circumventing out-of-control reactions. Let me make it clear that we are not describing denying, stifling or bottling up emotions. Feelings actually need to be acknowledged before they can be contained and regulated.
Think of Emotional Regulation as self-soothing. That is why parent/baby bonding, rocking, and attending to young children’s needs are crucial, as is helping children name what they feel. These care giving behaviours set the grounding for adult Emotional Regulation.
Five Steps to Blowing a Fuse
- A situation or event triggers the lower, primitive part of the brain (older, survival or reptilian brain). Examples: You are called a rude name, are told you have lost your job or a relationship ends.
- The primitive brain makes associations to past trauma (often from the first 4 years of life). Examples: being left alone in an unsafe situation, shamed or verbally, physically or sexually abused.
- A flight, fright or freeze effect is activated. Heart rate increases, nerve ends tense, breathing becomes shallow, and senses become hyper vigilante.
- The frontal or cortical area of the brain (thinking brain) shuts down. You can not think!
- A reaction, versus calm and collected response, occurs. It feels as if you are exploding with words, gestures and/or physical action.
Dr Perry has said, “The only way to move from these super-high anxiety states, to calmer more cognitive states, is through rhythm. . . walking, running, singing, repetitive meditative breathing.”
Five Steps to Emotional Regulation
- A situation or event triggers the lower, primitive or older part of the brain (survival or reptilian brain).
- Your frontal (thinking brain) is activated to remind you that you have a choice.
- You choose to self-detach from your emotional state. You imagine being a fly on the wall as if watching yourself in a movie. You become no longer a hostage to your feelings.
- You utilize breathing or other self-soothing rhythms to bring you to calm.
- You choose what to say or do next.
Five Ways to Strengthen Your Emotional Regulation
- Develop a practice of breathing, meditation, yoga or dancing that you can rely upon. At the same time, develop a sense of a witness or high self who watches with detachment. Ah-so, all is well.
- Practice self-compassion for those times you do blow a fuse.
- Learn to identity your feeling states and become more comfortable with the anxiety producing emotions.
- Have strategies to engage in difficult conversations.
- Deepen your sense of gratitude for moments of love, joy and disconnectedness.
How do you regulate your emotions? Or would you like to know more about emotional regulation and/or anger management? Leave a comment below and I will be sure to respond.