Kendall, Cumbria, United Kingdom
Emotions have a habit of running riot when you let them. They can be all-consuming, preventing rational thought and action. This is because your emotional brain operates independently from your rational brain and when it gets aroused (upset), it hogs all the resources that your rational brain needs to function correctly. It can quickly overwhelm you if you don’t take action to control it.
In this chapter, we’re going to briefly explore some strategies for managing your emotions, to help you be more robust and resilient in spite of the challenges you face.
As the saying on the popular TV show, Catchphrase, suggests, ‘Say what you see!’
Tune in to your emotions and then name them when they occur. This is called ‘Labelling’ and it’s a simple technique to identify an emotion you are feeling in the moment to allow your rational mind to start to think more clearly about the action you need to take. It helps redirect resources back to your rational mind so you can consider steps to deal with the challenge at hand and reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed.
We often spend vast amounts of nervous energy worrying and fretting about things over which we have no control. Accepting is a process of recognising what we can influence and control, and what we cannot. For those things which we cannot control, we overtly give ourselves permission not to worry about them. After all, you can’t change them, accept that fact, and focus your energy on what you can influence and control.
Try it now: What is currently outside of your control? Tell yourself, ‘I can’t control that or influence it in any way, therefore I’m not going to waste my time and energy worrying about it’.
You can then reinforce this by using Positive Reframing or Being Grateful (both below) to focus on more positive things. If you catch yourself worrying about it again, just repeat the exercise above.
This is particularly useful if you are feeling a panic attack coming on or are simply feeling overwhelmed. Sit down, ideally in an upright position, and breathe in through your nose for five seconds. At the top of your breath, hold it for five seconds before exhaling again through the mouth, slowly controlling the release of air over five more seconds. Before breathing in again, count off a final five seconds then repeat the cycle. This can help you feel calmer as you lower your blood pressure, reduce your heart rate and get much needed oxygen to the brain.
Positive reframing is a process where you look for the positives or good in the current situation. Self-isolation in a pandemic, for example, might give you an opportunity to catch up on some reading or do some learning. It is taking a ‘glass half-full’ view of the world. It is not denying the stressful situation, but it is seeking to extract some good from it.
In a similar vein, being grateful is a useful self-tonic in times of suffering and stress. Look at all aspects of your life and ask yourself, what is it that you can be grateful for in this particular instant? It might be that you are grateful for the unconditional love of your dog, or that the sun is shining or that you are fortunate enough to have a roof over your head. Try and find three things a day for which you are grateful as a little personal pick-me-up.
Talk to Someone
In times of stress, it’s important to find someone with whom you can share your thoughts and feelings. Who can you call – even if it’s just for a chat? Maybe you can’t talk to someone, in which case, try writing to yourself as if you were writing to your best friend. Use Labelling, Acceptance, Positive Reframing and Being Grateful as prompts in your letter to yourself.
Finally, be kind to yourself. If someone came to you feeling anxious and fragile, you would want to support them and help them get to a better place. You need to take the same attitude with yourself as you accept how you feel and take a positive and affirming action to get to a better place.
For further information
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