Strategy of Emotions Management
The wheel of emotions resource is helpful in allowing us to see the various emotions a human can experience, to understand and name our emotions more effectively which can improve our emotional literacy (Donaldson, 2017). However, oftentimes our bodies may tell us something before our brain clicks onto it. Therefore having an awareness of how and what we feel in our bodies can be helpful to understand what is happening for us and giving time and space to process that emotion. This is beginning of the strategy of emotions management.
As humans, we have many emotions, some are regarded as more pleasant than others and we as humans are meant to experience a range of emotions. Many of us try to ignore, push away or distract ourselves from the more unpleasant emotions (by TV, phones, alcohol use, conflict with others etc) which may feel effective in the short term, however it actually does us more harm than good because by ignoring the emotions, they build up and we make them stronger (Bradberry & Greaves, 2009).
What do they tell us?
- Emotions are helpful in motivating our behaviour and prepare us for action.
- Emotions help us to act in important situations (saving time when we are unable to think through what we should do).
- Emotions communicate to others around us via facial expressions, body language, tone of voice.
- Our communication of our emotions to others can influence others.
- Our emotions communicate something to ourselves, they give us important information about situations (the emotions can be like alarm bells).
..Sometimes we can regard our emotions about something as fact. That the stronger the emotion is, the stronger the belief we have that this emotion is based on a fact. Therefore if we make the assumption that our emotions represent facts about the world around us, we might just use them to justify our thoughts and behaviours which can be troublesome in some situations.
Many of us would be able to identify a time in our life when something has made us very angry, we have sat in that anger (not allowing any response), then we find more (little) things irritate us and then a few weeks later we can have an emotional outburst (which can be dangerous for ourselves and others around us as we can hit, punch, if we are driving, etc). This emotional outburst is our body’s way of releasing the ignored emotions (like an erupting volcano).
Some of us can feel a sense of shame for experiencing/responding/reacting to some of the unpleasant emotions or that we shouldn’t feel a particular way. Sometimes when our environment is not safe/unpredictable, we can internalize an unpleasant feeling which can manifest physically in our bodies. Some of us may feel emotions more intensely, or less intensely and this can be due to family dynamics (Morris, Silk, Steinberg, Myers & Robinson, 2007), how we have learned to express (or not express) emotions growing up.
We tend to be more aware of the unpleasant emotions we feel rather than the pleasant ones. Emotions are energy in motion (Bradberry & Greaves, 2009), our bodies release this energy (chemical response to a situation) and it moves through us and this is how we process it. We are generally used to processing pleasant emotions as they are easier, more accepted in our family system and within society.
There is the physical sensation of crying that people often avoid (out of shame, not wanting to cry and be judged by others etc) however it is important to identify the emotion we are feeling, allow ourselves to feel it, sit with that emotion and the physical sensation of crying to allow the emotion to move through and process (Fooladi, 2005).
Therefore it is helpful for us to lean into the emotion, identify what we are feeling when we feel it, address the physical sensations that we feel and allow our bodies to complete the response to help process that emotion so that it does not stay unprocessed in our body.
When we begin to hold back, ignore or suppress our emotions, physical tension begins to develop and store (Van Der Kolk, 2003) in the body.
Why we are amazing
The human body and mind are amazing. We can change the way we feel by changing our physical experience (grounding, self soothing, mindfulness). Emotions will move through us, however this task becomes increasingly difficult when we are psychologically stuck on the emotion/s, meaning that we think about the feeling (O’Kelly, 2010) so much that we hold onto it and remain in the emotion a lot longer which can escalate the emotion/s, response, reaction and how we see ourselves and the world around us through this emotional lens.
Being mindful (aware) of what we are feeling, noticing where we feel it in our bodies, bring breath to it, by doing so, this allows us to slow down our response and reaction (by engaging our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain responsible for rational thinking) to a situation (often times needing a buffer time of approx 90 seconds) and knowing that the feeling is temporary and we will move on from that feeling.
Therefore the ways in which we can manage our emotions more effectively are:
Identifying and feeling the emotion (use a wheel of emotions) which can help identify which parts of angry, sad, anxious we may be feeling. This in turn helps provide situational context around the emotion (Donaldson, 2017).
Breathing is important for regulating our physical selves. When we focus on our breath, we lessen the focus on our unhelpful thinking about the emotion, person, situation etc. The breathing helps to activate our vagus nerve (their job is to regulate emotions) therefore this can help reduce the intensity of emotions (Jerath, Crawford, Barnes & Harden, 2015).
Being mindful of our thoughts and feelings as they happen (and the physical sensations), using a strategy to lessen the intensity of the emotion, explore with ourselves what has happened to elicit this emotion which can allow us to react, respond and process the emotion in a safe manner.
Have a chat to someone safe in your world about what happened, how we felt about it, how we moved through it and possibly some problem solving if needed. This experience of talking to someone trusted can help us to feel validated in our experience and emotions. If you prefer someone outside of your world who can be objective to your experience, give us a call and book in to talk with me (or one of our clinicians).
Author: Aleah Haffenden, B Soc Wk, Grad Cert Suicide Prevention, AMHSW.
Aleah Haffenden is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, working primarily with young people (aged 15 and up). She takes a client-focused approach, using a mix of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), tailored to their specific needs.
To make an appointment with Aleah Haffenden, try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422 or M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129.
- Bradberry, T., & Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional Intelligence 2.0. TalentSmart.
- Donaldson, M. (2017). Plutchik’s wheel of emotions—2017. Update
- Fooladi, M. M. (2005). The healing effects of crying. Holistic Nursing Practice, 19(6), 248-255.
- Jerath, R., Crawford, M. W., Barnes, V. A., & Harden, K. (2015). Self-regulation of breathing as a primary treatment for anxiety. Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback, 40(2), 107-115.
- Lench, H. C. (Ed.). (2018). The function of emotions: When and why emotions help us. Springer.
- Morris, A. S., Silk, J. S., Steinberg, L., Myers, S. S., & Robinson, L. R. (2007). The role of the family context in the development of emotion regulation. Social development, 16(2), 361-388.
- O’Kelly, M. (2010). CBT in ACTION: A Practitioner’s Toolkit. CBT Australia.
- Van Der Kolk, B. (2003). The body keeps the score. Trauma, 2, 50.