Last time, I wrote about the role of emotions and, more specifically, how emotions are helpful even when they are unpleasant. Even though emotions are generally a useful tool, people can run into problems with them when they experience too much or too little of an emotion; or when they experience an emotion at an inappropriate time.
For example, when people experience an excess of sadness for a long period of time, it can be a sign that they are experiencing depression. Similarly, when people experience very strong fear in relation to something that is not life threatening (e.g., public speaking, or spiders), it can be part of a phobia.
A tool that can be useful to help understand and cope with strong emotions is called emotion regulation. Emotion regulation skills are designed to encourage people to slow their actions down and bring their emotions under control, so that they can act based on reason rather than on instinct.
One of the most fundamental forms of emotion regulation involves making an effort to separate yourself from your emotional experience and the feeling of being “up in your head” and bringing attention to tangible aspects of the reality that is happening around you. There are several strategies that can help with this. For example:
Breathing: Focussing on deep, slow, regular breaths can help reduce the intensity of emotions. Even doing this for 1 minute can help.
Grounding: Taking some time to bring your mind back to the environment around you by trying to fill your awareness of tangible things you can see, feel, and hear can help emotions seem less overwhelming.
Mindfulness and meditation: Taking regular time each day to practice mindfulness or meditation can help you to train yourself how to feel strong emotions and act rationally at the same time.
These skills are useful for everyone, whether you are having difficulty coping with emotions, or just want to keep your emotional health on check. There are also lots of free resources online to help with practising these, so why not check them out!
Ben Walters is a psychologist at the Centre for Human Potential. See www.cfhp.com.au.