Dealing with Strong Emotion
•Goal: Emotional regulation skills and skills related to effective coping with strong emotions are important interpersonal and intrapersonal skills to possess.
•Technique: Acknowledge Your Feeling: Notice and identify the fact that your strong emotions have been triggered. This is especially important when you’ve been ambushed by an emotion. It helps to say clearly to yourself, “I’m feeling angry,” or, “I’m sad,” or, “I’m upset.” You don’t have to analyze the feeling or even think about where it’s coming from. Pause: Stop yourself from acting on the feeling. To do this, focus on your breathing, following your breath as it moves in and out through your nostrils. Take three good deep breaths and count to 10 and then breath and count to 10 again. Get Grounded: When we’re experiencing strong emotions, we often lose touch with our physical body. To get grounded inside your body, bring your attention to the sensation of your feet on the ground; if you’re sitting, feel the contact between your buttocks and the cushion or floor. Explore the Feeling in your body: Focus on the feeling. Where is it in your body? How does it feel? Notice if there’s a color field around your mood. Let Go of the Story Line: At this point, you’ll notice that certain thoughts are attached to your particular emotion, thoughts that frequently begin “How could he?” or “I always…” Acknowledge these thoughts and then let them go, keeping your attention on the feeling rather than getting caught up in your personal story line. If you are feeling overwhelmed with the emotion and it is difficult to think, it may be best to remove yourself from the situation if possible. You can go splash water on your face, have a drink of water, take a quick brisk walk. Additional strategies to help cope with strong negative emotions include being hopeful and positive. Say positive things to yourself and others (e.g., “I will make it through this,” “I’m trying my hardest,” “I’m a good person”). Remember that persistence is the best way to solve your problems and avoid failure. Try to keep a good sense of humor. Think about things you are thankful for. Recognize positive feelings, good things about yourself, and changes for the better. If you can’t do something to make the situation better, don’t make it worse. Sometimes you may feel like there’s nothing you can do to make the situation better. Try to avoid doing things that may make the situation worse. Doing nothing may be better.
•Evidence: There is strong evidence that learning to effectively regulate emotions is an adaptive and important skill and can reduce stress and stress-related physical disorders. Effectively coping with strong emotions is also associated with more effective interpersonal interactions and facilitation of goals.
•Suggestion for use: Remember that you have the power to control your emotions. You can choose to change the way you feel and the way you respond. You can begin by taking ownership of your emotions and recognizing that others do not “make” you feel a certain way. You alone own your emotions. You can begin to use these strategies by intentionally acknowledging your feelings and perhaps learning additional words to help you describe your emotions and identify them in your body. Additionally, it may be helpful to notice patterns of what triggers strong emotions in you, in order to begin to better understand your own emotions and learn strategies to discriminate past emotions from present situations.
•Potential barriers and how to overcome: It can be difficult to think that you can control your strong negative emotions. It may be easy to simply react to things happening around you and quickly lose control of your emotions. This is especially true if you are more emotionally vulnerable. Strategies to help prevent being emotionally vulnerable include getting enough sleep, eating regularly and staying healthy with exercise and avoiding mood altering substances. Your ability to control strong emotions will get better with practice.