Cultivating emotional regulation
Emotions, especially intense, upsetting ones, can seem as though they will last forever. But whether they bring smiles to our faces or hurt our hearts and bring tears - our emotional world is almost always in motion.
According to the American Psychological Association, emotion is defined as “a complex reaction pattern, involving experiential, behavioral and physiological elements.” Emotions are how individuals deal with matters or situations they find personally significant.
The main components of emotion include:
(1) Subjective experience. Emotions begin with a subjective experience to a trigger, e. g. in the face of a loss of a loved one - one person can feel anger and regret while another may experience intense sadness.
(2) Physical changes. When the autonomic nervous system reacts, we feel physiological sensations to the emotion experienced, e. g., palm sweating.
(3) Behavioral response. An action or strong impulse to act in a specific way responding to an emotional trigger (that response also depends on the norms of a society, culture, and personality), e. g., a smile, a sigh, a yell.
What is emotion regulation?
We all know that emotions influence our behavior. And research reveals that people are much more flexible in dealing with emotions than was previously thought. It appears that with practice, emotional processing can be partially consciously accessed. The processes by which people manage their emotions are commonly referred to as emotion regulation. Since it is associated with areas such as a person's mental and physical health, relationship satisfaction and professional performance, emotion regulation in different contexts is a valuable skill worth cultivating.
Emotion regulation strategies
According to Kneeland and colleagues, effective emotion regulation promotes psychological health and is associated with many positive psychological outcomes, such as a perceived sense of well-being, more effective interpersonal functioning, and better physical health. There are adaptive emotion regulation strategies and poorly adapted ones. The latter can have the paradoxical effect of exacerbating negative affect and psychological distress and increasing the frequency of inappropriate behavior. Meanwhile, adaptively applied strategies are beneficial in reducing negative affect and lower arousal in response to emotional stimuli or a trigger.
Reappraisal, acceptance, and problem-solving are identified as adaptive emotion regulation strategies. While suppression, avoidance (not allowing yourself to experience your feelings as they evolve by avoiding or suppressing) and rumination (obsessive thinking about one thing) - as maladaptive emotion regulation systems.
Emotion regulation-focused therapy
The literature on emotion-focused therapy provides information about performance-disrupting stress and difficulties in emotion regulation, which can be decisive for the maladaptive use of emotions and reactions to emotional experiences accompanied by various beliefs. Theorists distinguish primary and secondary emotions. While primary emotions are reactions to a situation, secondary emotions are responses to primary emotions that can lead to even more intense emotional experiences, such as guilt for feeling sad (Greenberg, 2006). Metacognitive beliefs about experienced emotions can significantly contribute to this. According to Hess and co-authors, metacognitive beliefs about emotions can be shaped by adverse childhood experiences or manifest as a reflection of cultural attitudes towards emotions, e. g. feeling shame for crying. Practitioners of emotion-focused therapy posit different ideas and knowledge about emotions and help people experiencing difficulties with emotion regulation reshape destructive beliefs.
What steps can you practice to cultivate emotional balance?
1. Notice that you are experiencing an emotion. The first step is not about naming emotions but simply cultivating awareness to recognize that you feel something.
2. Identify the emotion. Pause for a moment, breathing in and out. Turn your attention inward and allow yourself to feel that emotion in your body. Different emotions are often experienced in various parts of the body. What sensations in your body do you feel? In which area? Describe it in your thoughts.
3. Name emotions verbally. “I’m feeling sad”, “I’m feeling angry”, “I’m feeling joyful”.
Counseling, meditation, mindful breathing, taking a walk or exercising, progressive muscle relaxation, reading, doodling, singing, visualizing a relaxing image, and journaling - all these self-care activities can help you develop emotional regulation skills.
Emotional balance occurs when we allow ourselves to feel whatever emotions arise without becoming suffocated or overwhelmed and when we learn to accept our feelings without judgment and self-criticism.
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