Essentially, all psychiatric and psychological distress manifest themselves in emotional dysregulation. This means that there is an upheaval of emotion (anger, stress, fear, anxiety etc.) that comes along with the challenge. There could also be a down- regulation of emotion (depression, dysthymia, dissociation). The question that is often raised is, now that we know so much about where challenging emotions originate from, what can we do to control them and normalize them? Do we have the power to take an intense emotion and self-sooth? And if so, how? The answer lies in practicing emotional regulation activities.
Talk-therapy is not sufficient
For many, talking alone is not sufficient. Acquiring tools and skills how to manage their intense emotions is that they wish for. Over the years, I have found various methods that are a) easily to learn and b) easy to apply. Those that practiced these techniques for some time, experienced significant relief from their intense emotions.
Even more, their self-esteem dramatically increased. This is very logical. How do you feel when your emotions are ‘out of control’ and you can’t seem to sooth them? On top of the initial suffering, there is an added self-criticism that appears to add to the suffering.
Understanding emotional flooding
Feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem – Anna Frank
- You receive some criticism at work
- Your expectations to meet up with a friend are suddenly canceled
- Stuck in traffic, endlessly looking for a parking spot
- Your kids don’t listen to you despite your repetitive instructions
You can also feel intense positive emotions such as through;
- hearing a nice piece of music
- intense feelings of love
- somebody does something unexpectedly kind to you
And these events in life have the power to take us from one extreme type of emotion to another, sometimes, in the blink of an eye. In other words, our emotions are quite susceptible to the environment.
A little neurobiology
With regard to our discussion, there are three parts of the brain that are important to understand;
- The hindbrain (responsible for heart beat, breathing etc.)
- The midbrain (emotions)
- The forebrain (logical thinking and language)
When these three parts work nicely together and communicate effectively with each other, then you only get alarmed when needed. So for example you hear a loud bang, your mid and hindbrain alert you to that and increase heart rate and other bodily functions necessary for fight or flight. Then your forebrain kicks in and checks whether the bang is indeed a cause for fight/flight or not. Assuming that it isn’t, then your forebrain informs the mid and hindbrain that there is no cause for alarm in which they subsequently calm down. This can take a few minutes – think of a bad dream that wakes you up at night, even upon awakening and realizing that it is just a dream, it could still take some time before you actually calm down. That is the process of the mid and hindbrain that activate your body in light of a perceived alarm and the forebrains function of scanning the environment to see whether to act upon it or not.
Flooding = they don’t work together
Flooding occurs when the different brain parts are not working together effectively and the forebrain doesn’t really have the ability to sooth the mid and hindbrain. You get the feeling then that you know the logic but it doesn’t seem to help you. You get it, you had the Aha moment, you heard the insight but your emotions are still more powerful than you and you are not able to sooth them with intellect.
Watch here how an actress talks about her struggle with emotional dysregulation:
Here is a tool that comes from the book ‘The road to calm, workbook’ by Carolyn Daitch & Lissah Lorberbaum (Amazon link below). The purpose of this tool called ‘Tight fist’ is to release tension and let go of stress or other intense emotion.
- Pick your dominant hand to work with
- Imagine how all your intense emotions are going into that hand as you make a tight fist and squeeze it strongly
- Keep going and attempt to make the fist tighter and tighter
- Now imagine that the tensed up emotion is taking the form of a liquid and give it a color
- As you imagine your fist taking in all that liquid, keep the fist tight
- Then open your fist very slowly, one finger at a time, and imagine seeing the liquid leave your fist down to the floor
- See the liquid get absorbed into the floor, under the ground and deep into the earth
- Repeat the tight fist technique for each emotion that is still left
- Finally do the exercise also with your dominant hand
The tight fist is a very powerful technique which allows your brain to make use of the midbrain, rather than trying to use frontal brain (thinking) to talk you out of intense emotions which as you know, hardly works. This technique, given some practicing, has the power to give you back some power in regulation your intense emotions within minutes. Many more tools are discussed in the book.
Title: The road to calm workbook: Life-Changing Tools to Stop Runaway Emotions
Author: Carolyn Daitch & Lissah Lorberbaum
Extra: This books comes with an accompanied CD to help you do the exercises
Best place to get it: Amazon
My review: 10/10
Another great book by the same author in terms of techniques to help you regulate emotions is the ‘Affect Regulation Toolbox’. The techniques are based on practical and effective hypnotic interventions for people that feel they are over-reactive
Title: Affect regulation toolbox
Author: Carolyn Daitch
Best place to get it: Amazon
My review: 9.8/10
Hypnosis is a great way to master emotional control. In Control your emotions you will get the tools to be in control of your own ship. You will learn to detach from those intensities in a healthy way and be an observer instead of living it. It will also teach you to take perspective prior to taking action (impulse control). With listening regularly, you will be able to draw on the energy that the emotions give you in a balanced way and increase trust of your emotions. Enjoy listening! Here is the link again. Control your emotions.
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