Emotional Regulation

By Jimmy Warden

Do you ever find your emotions feeling irregular? To the point where things just feel “off” or maybe so much that you feel extreme amounts of difficult emotions? If so, you’re not the only one. Everyone feels that way at one point or another. Unfortunately, that’s just a part of life. The most important point is that you recognize when it’s happening, because when you recognize that, you can do something about it. You can feel regulated once again.

Recognizing your emotions is the first step in emotional regulation. Rather than acting from impulse, aka your reptilian brain, aka fight or flight, you can act using your medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that’s responsible for making decisions. Once you recognize you are emotionally dysregulated, you can take action in several different ways to return you back to your “normal” state of mind. The action you take will be dependent on the severity of the dysregulation. For example, if you find yourself getting agitated at something someone just said to you, then a few deep breaths or a long pause should suffice so you can respond with something rational versus something barbaric. If this occurs during a conversation you can make the choice to take a break from the topic at hand in order to cool off, collect your thoughts, and come back open to listening, instead of allowing your ego to take control just to win the argument. If the anger is coming from a deeper place, meaning that it is something that is bothering you consistently or it’s bothering you for a reason you don’t know and it requires thought, then some other strategies can be put into place.

The first strategy that you could implement is simply taking a walk. Talk a walk, alone, with no devices. I say no devices so that you can focus your attention on the problem(s) at hand. It is going to require some deep thought, so it’s best to not have distractions. The main question to ask is “why?”. Why is it that problem is bothering me? Am I really being bothered by something from my past? Is it bothering me because it worries me about the future? This type of questioning can be thought of as meditating on a problem, which can be another strategy in itself. It is important to meditate on problems. Meditating on problems can help us gain some insight and clarity in regards to the problems that are bothering us. Meditating on the problem allows thoughts and feelings to bubble up from our subconscious, into our conscious stream of these. These bubbling thoughts and feelings are often ideas that we truly haven’t had because they haven’t been at the forefront of our minds: they have been suppressed into our subconscious. It is this questioning technique that allows us to truly dig deep and get at the root of our our problems. In order to use this strategy effectively, I highly recommend asking these questions in the second person. For example, “why did you get so upset about what that person said?”. This will help you access your subconscious, rather than your cumbersome ego. I also think it is beneficial for people to engage in other types of meditation in addition to thinking meditatively.

Meditation sometimes get brushed off to the side because people imagine Buddhists in a monastery somewhere singing “ohhhhhm”. The real concept of meditation is the ability to be still. Be still with your body and mind. If that stillness breaks in the mind, and its recognized, and the mind is brought back to stillness, congratulations, you’re on your way to becoming a monk! Just kidding.

In all seriousness, however, this takes a lot of practice. It’s helpful to sit in a quiet place. Take six to ten deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Slowly. When you feel your heart rate start to slow down, close your eyes. Let your breathing return back to normal. Let your mind focus its attention on one thing and one thing only. Try feeling the weight of your body sitting in your chair or on your floor. Once you feel centered, try to listen to the sounds around you. No need to figure out what they are, just listen and hear the sounds. Next, focus on your breath. Feel your stomach and chest expand as you breath in through your nose. Feel it drop as you exhale. For beginners, continue this for about 5 minutes and then bring yourself back into the space around you by slowly visualizing its various parts. Then, ground yourself by feeling the weight of gravity pressing you down on the chair or surface beneath you. Become acclimated with any sounds or smells, then gently open your eyes. For more advanced meditators, try for 10-20 minutes.

If you’re looking for a great place to start guided meditations, check out the Headspace app for iPhones and Androids. You can also check out the Calm app, but I personally prefer Headspace. Meditation has helped me a great deal with my emotional regulation and being able to recognize difficult emotions because I’ve been practicing daily and can now apply it to the real life situations that have me experiencing those difficult emotions.

Often times when we experience challenging emotions, such as fear and anxiety, it is because we are playing scenarios from the past or the future in our heads, and those scenarios we play out usually result in a negative outcome. It is a negative outcome because it doesn’t match the ideal picture of how we wanted the scenarios to play our. A lot of that is due to the fact that we think history will repeat itself. In the world around us, it does have that tendency, but the best thing about all of this is that we can change our own trajectory. So go for a walk, meditate on questions or concerns, meditate for peace of mind, and just remember, you’ll get through this because you’ve gotten through difficult things before. So go for a walk or find some time to meditate. Get back the state of mind you need to enjoy your life. Believe me, that 5-20 minutes, whatever it might be, will be worth your time, and more importantly, improve your well-being.

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