Unmanaged emotions can often hijack your energy and behaviour, causing a distorted view of life’s experiences, whether you are aware of it or not. And often when this happens, we have a knee-jerk reaction which rarely gives us good outcomes.
The key is educating and learning about how this happens and by understanding what’s happening in our brains can pave the way for much calmer responses in thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
The limbic part of the brain (sometimes known as the emotional brain) and the brain stem, called the survival brain, can quickly override our rational thinking. Logic therefore instantly goes out the window when we are feeling threatened emotionally. It is a natural state of defense of Fight or Flight. Our survival mechanism which often protects us. However, we are no longer living in the cavemen days and need to learn and adjust with evolution.
Emotional regulation couldn’t be more crucial for today’s unrest and ongoing challenges that we are faced with. Learning to self-calm (self-regulate) and soothe our anxiety, frustration, or even anger are vital parts of emotional intelligence well worth the effort.
During my teens right through to my early 30’s Emotional regulation was something that I wasn’t aware of and looking back on it I really struggled with it. I was never really taught the importance of it, nor was there much support out there for me to understand the effects of it. It was when I started my teaching career that led me to train as a life coach and then in other lines of therapies that I truly began to understand the depth of Emotional Regulation. Not only that, going through my own mental health issues shown a huge light on me. That WOW! moment.
When we self-soothe ourselves, we return to the logical part of the brain for wiser responses, giving time to think and rationalise with much more clarity. It’s a bit like when your brain is starving of food and water you just can’t simply think straight and logically. Remember that our daily behaviour and decisions determine the quality of our life and future.
I often talk about Self-awareness and Mindfulness a lot, as I believe that this is so important for self-development- self-growth which impacts every corner of our lives.
Daily Practice Self-Awareness and Mindfulness is key
Many of us all have really full-on busy lives, so who has time to spend hours a week learning a new skill? The truth is, to truly grow internally and externally time needs to be spent… The good news is that you can learn a really simple, step-by-step process to calm yourself, requiring only a couple of minutes at a time without spending hours on it. Small amounts on regular basis-forming part of your life routine.
When you integrate it into your daily routine it then becomes a habit- you’ll do it without thinking about it. Do Not underestimate the power of simple targeted actions that can be capable of turning your anxiety into calmness and inner peace. Honestly, the simplest thing as making a cup of tea to just chill out for 10-15 minutes can make a huge difference.
As I always say, “To making any change at all, the first step is to develop your heightened self-awareness.” That is where mindfulness comes into play. Mindfulness is about and begins with a practice of self-awareness; the true deeper self-awareness. There is so much more to mindfulness but here I am introducing it to help you focus on calming your anxiety and stress levels.
So, before you try the step-by-step process to regulate emotions below, observe yourself for one week making note of the following:
- What are you thinking that may increase anxiousness?
- In what small ways do you deny yourself what you need?
- Don’t change anything; just raise your awareness. Notice with curiosity.
Next, introduce self-acceptance. Bring awareness to, if your inner critic is loud and harsh, you may feel too vulnerable to allow your feelings to surface. Try to take time to open up and to be supported by a safe inner space by listening to your emotional needs.
Next, practice self-compassion. Being kind and loving to yourself is so important. Valuing your worth. Each and every time your mind criticises or judges you, say “STOP”. Make a real conscious effort to not let that inner critic voice (Negative self-talk) empower you. Once you have managed that, I want you to replace the negative self-talk with positive- more encouraging inner talk responses.
Finally, once you are ready to begin to understand your emotions and eliminate that short fuse of anxiety, stress or anger, the next step is to Take Action to Practice the four vital steps below to support you. This process will no doubt enhance and empower your life- giving you greater emotional wellbeing.
Practical Steps to Calming Yourself
STEP 1: Identify your feeling.
Name the emotion(s) that you are feeling: sad, excited, anxious, resentful, angry, or jealous? Simply by naming what you’re feeling, the emotions will begin to slow down and subside as it’s a natural form of the conscious mind telling us.
It could be that your inner world is a whole cluster of emotions clashing together so here you breathe in and out slowly. When we haven’t listened to our emotions for a long time and have subsided them, they can be all compressed together, causing confusion and therefore encounter difficulty in recognising them. Be patient. So, once you begin to feel yourself calming, then begin to pull the emotions apart and see if you can name each one. The key here is to arrange them as you would organise children in a single file for a field trip.
STEP 2: Ask yourself: how you would like to feel?
Having spent some time discovering your emotions and fully identifying and having felt them, the next step is to figure out how you want to feel instead. Just feeling the negative emotions isn’t enough; they tell you what action you need to take to feel better. If you’re anxious, perhaps something is bothering you then that needs a resolution. For example: If you’re sad, due to your feelings being hurt by a friend, you would ask yourself, how would I like to feel instead?
STEP 3: Perception shifting to support how you would like to feel.
Perceptions can often becloud by our emotions which stops us from thinking with clarity. Think about: What perception would you need to have to feel better?
For instance, if your friend hurt your feelings, instead of thinking they don’t care about you (which is normally the first natural instinct), shift your perception to the possibility that: “They probably didn’t even realize they hurt me. I know they care about me, so I need to let them know.” That way you will no doubt feel much greater about yourself, not allowing room for your anxiety, stress or anger to come into play.
STEP 4: Take one action to change the way you feel.
Now, it’s time to Take Action. Don’t try to do too many things at once. Only take one action. at a time, so as not to overwhelm yourself.
So, perhaps, start by either:
- Talking to a trusted friend.
- Giving yourself self-care time if you’ve been working too much.
- Or solving that inner conflict by taking steps to fulfill an important goal
- Or champion a value that you’ve been compromising.
Remember that each small step we take to be our own advocate increases positive feelings and builds healthier self-esteem through self-regulation.
Example of a scenario to see how Self-Awareness and Emotional Regulation can work using the 4 steps from above:
Your partner has been working too much, with long hours at the office or working remotely, and has not been making your relationship a priority. To add to this, when your partner is not working, she/he is constantly on her/his phone/iPad.
STEP 1: Identify your feeling. You might feel not valued, unimportant, lonely and resentful.
STEP 2: Ask yourself: how you would like to feel? You want to feel loved, loving towards your partner. You would also like to have the time to connect on different levels, have fun, and have a closer relationship.
STEP 3: Shifting your perception: how you would like to feel instead? Think of what you are grateful for; appreciate the financial security he/she provides by working long hours. Become mindful and search deep within your subconsciousness of the loving gestures that your partner has shown you over the past weeks, even in the midst of a manic work schedule. For instance, texting you during lunch or on their way back from work to see if you need anything, etc.
STEP 4: Take one action to change the way you feel. Thank your spouse or partner for how hard she/he works. Tell them how much you miss them and what they mean to you. Then request a regular date night or something you both share in common, to nurture your relationship.
The idea is to make a practice of these steps on regular basis, and in no time at all, you’ll be well on your way to regulating your emotions to emotional fitness- creating a life you love with meaningful relationships. Stay focused on what’s important and why you want it, to keep encouraged. It honestly, only takes micro mindful actions throughout your day or week to increase happiness and inner peace.
A great resource to help with practicing Emotional Intelligence: https://tools.positivepsychology.com/ei-exercises