Emotion regulation is another superpower. Learn 4 simple steps to help you manage when you are feeling overwhelmed or rattled.
Regulation is one of the 5Rs – supeRpoweRs that can help you and your family live a healthy, balanced life amid the demands of the modern world. In a nutshell, regulation skills allow you to take purposeful and mindful control of your attention and behavior, instead of letting the more automatized, subconscious systems of your brain run the show. Future posts will go into more details about what happens in the brain when the auto pilots of the downstairs brain are activated and how access to the upstairs brain leads to regulation. For now, just know that regulation skills are critically important, yet slow to mature. They are highly correlated with success, well-being, and strong Relationships. A balanced life with technology depends on them. However, the brain structures those skills rely on are not typically up and running at full capacity until around the age of 25 – give or take a few years. This means that your children will benefit from ongoing modeling, guidance and mentoring as their regulation skills develop.
Most of our posts will touch on some aspect of Regulation. Today we simply want to introduce you to a model for practicing the skill of emotion regulation. You can use it when you are having a strong emotion about a situation that feels unmanageable. The model can help you can handle the emotion in ways that lead to better problem solving and more connected relationships. The goal of the model — emotion regulation — is essential to the process of being Curious Not Furious (hence why the post is a little longer than usual).
When you find yourself overcome or rattled by an emotion, we recommend you take these four steps:
- Notice, Name and Normalize feelings.
Acknowledge and listen to your feelings without judgment or criticism.
Feelings are alerts. They direct us to pay attention to situations that may impact our well-being in some way. When we get Curious Not Furious about our feelings, they provide us with useful information about the situations we encounter. For example, overwhelm alerts us to pay attention to situations where demand is outstripping resources. When we can recognize and acknowledge the need for more resources, we can then cope better with what is at hand. “I am overwhelmed. That’s reasonable because I need four hands for this job and I only have two. Hmmm. I wonder what I can do about that?”
- Turn off false alarms about dangerous emergencies.
Think about situations as challenges rather than threats. Think of your feeling state as a source of helpful information rather than as a perilous condition.
Most of the modern-day situations we encounter are challenges, not imminent life threats. By imminent life threat we mean a situation in which we are likely to die in the next few minutes if we don’t take immediate action. Even the corona virus pandemic, for most of us, is an ongoing challenge and not an immediate life-threatening emergency. Yet, our lower brain can’t tell the difference between a perceived threat (such as a challenge) and an actual immediate life-threatening one. It rings the emergency alarm in both cases. So, we need to help it when the situation is a challenge that requires problem solving by telling it to turn off the alarm. Here are two ways to do this: 1) label the situation as a challenge, not an immediate threat; and 2) label the feeling states as useful information about a challenge rather than as dangerous conditions that need to be avoided and/or eliminated. “The fact that I can’t do this alone right now is really frustrating and uncomfortable, but it is not an emergency, so I need to turn the alarm off. Then I can figure out what to do.”
- Reset your system.
Do three deep belly breathes. Do a mindfulness exercise. Shift your attention to something neutral. These are just a few of the ways you can help your body turn off the alarm and recover from the hyper arousal set in motion by it.
When we experience something as an emergency, the body goes into a hyper aroused state. When the “danger” passes, the alarm goes off and the body naturally returns to a resting state. You can help this process along by engaging in behaviors that are inconsistent with a state of emergency such as deep breathing, curiosity, reflection… “This situation requires my attention, but I will be better able to do that once I calm down. I’m going to have a nice cup of tea so that my body relaxes and then I can then I can begin to address the problem.”
- Step back toward the challenge
Take a manageable step toward solving the problems caused by the challenging situation.
Challenges abound and the natural discomfort and uncertainty that come with them cannot be eliminated. Yet most of us have parts that take over when the going gets rough and try to get rid of, rather than figure out how to manage, challenging situations. Unfortunately, this strategy is not effective in the long run. Simply put, we grow best when we step toward and tackle, rather than avoid, deny or banish, challenging situations. When we accept that being uncomfortable is a natural part of life that provides us with an opportunity for growth, we can stay on a path toward growth. “Even though this situation is uncomfortable, I can tackle it one step at a time. The first step is to figure out how to get some extra hands on deck.”
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