As surely as we all live, we are all going to encounter a situation that will challenge our ability to regulate our emotions. Some of us will experience such emotional overwhelm that our thinking shuts down completely. Whereas others of us will turn off the emotions and try to reason our way through situations; thinking if we can avoid the emotions, we can avoid the pain. There isn't anything inherently wrong with either of these responses in the short term. However, if we regularly make either practice a habit, the long run result will be that we become out of balance thus causing more problems.
Psychologist Marsha Linehan proposes three different perspectives on our thinking styles. She proposed that we have the reasoning self, the emotional self, and the wise self. Even though we all have all three aspects, we often spend more time in one perspective. We operate from the reasoning self when we think logically and use straightforward, factual, matter-of-fact thinking. Our reasoning self is generally able to put emotions on the back burner. Too much of this style often leads to being considered cold and robotic. We operate from the emotional self when we allow our emotions take over and control us. When we are feeling, hurt, sad, angry, or ashamed, we may lash out at ourselves (by self-harming) or at other people. We operate from the wise self when we are able to effectively discover and utilize the middle ground between our reasoning and emotional selves. When our wise self is in the driver's seat, we can operate from a place of balance- recognizing the importance our personal values play in our decision making while at the same time being able to hold space for other perspectives. We know that we have probably been here before and we can pause, reflect, and figure out what is in our best interests in a given situation.
After reading briefly about the three different thinking styles, which style do you find you routinely function from? What if after reading about the different thinking styles, you find that you spend more time in the reasoning self or emotional self-so much so that you feel your life is out of balance and your ability to connect with others in healthier manners is diminished? Just know that we are such amazingly gifted creatures and that we are capable of learning and practicing a different way of being when something no longer serves us. You are not stuck. You will just need new practices to get you going in a different, more balanced direction. Below, you will find six different strategies you can implement starting today to help keep the emotional self in check so that it doesn't hijack your emotions.
I don't know about you, but if I am tired and not well-rested, I do not react well to even the smallest of inconveniences. Seems like every time I turn on primetime news or researching on the internet, there is a new and improved recommendation regarding sleep times. The real answer to how much sleep you need is your body. What do you notice about your ability to feel energetic, think straight, concentrate, and remember things? How many hours of sleep did you get on the days that you were functioning at your best? Most research says we adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. Get curious and explore by adding hours to your sleep until you discover your sweet spot.
What Are You Eating?
You are what you eat. I can remember hearing this often. However, memories of this expression were often used to body shame others. That is not the purpose here. Let me be very clear about that. What it does mean here, is that our bodies require certain nutrients to be able to perform well. When we overindulge or even underindulge in the basic need of eating, we will not reduce the likelihood of our emotions being hijacked. Our bodies require regular, nutritious foods and balanced water intake to help us functioning optimally and increase our ability to think, concentrate, and remember things. Additionally, caffeine and sugar can increase our emotional instability because they tend to increase anxiety, irritability, and poor sleep.
We have discussed this before in previous blog articles (along with discussion of sleep and eating habits) but we will address here again. Studies have shown that exercise that gets your heart rate up like jogging, walking fast, dancing, or playing sports help improve our mood. If you have a depression diagnosis, there are some studies that indicate exercise is just as good at reducing mild depression as medication.
Take Care of Your Health.
When we do not feel well, we tend to get grumpy. When you take care of your body, you take care of your mind. There is literally no health without mental health. Get your yearly physical check-up. Get your routine dental hygiene appointments completed. Check-in with a mental health provider. Follow all treatment recommendations; if you are unsure about something, ask for clarity or even get a second opinion. Just know, inaction will not improve your emotional state.
Be Cautious of the Ways You Alter Your Mood.
It doesn't matter if it is nicotine, alcohol, or some other drug we have no control over the fact that they all alter our moods. I can't tell anyone what to do with their lives, but even if you are not abusing substances (nicotine, alcohol, other drugs) using them puts us at risk of being controlled by our emotions. How so if you aren't abusing them? We may not always be able to tell it while using, but go a few days without and you will pick up on the difference. You may find that you are more emotionally sensitive for days after using.
Perk Up Your Pride.
When we feel out of control, we restore that sense of control by adding in activities or projects that gives us a sense of being in control of our world. Take time to discover something that gives you a sense of pride in yourself for what you’ve accomplished even if it turns out to be an activity that you don’t enjoy doing but feel good about after completing (i.e. exercising, going to the gym, or choosing not to procrastinate over a school or work project in order to meet or exceed the deadline). You could learn to build something or play a musical instrument. You could learn a new language or take up arts and crafts. Indulge in healthy activities that build up your since of pride and self-respect.
I hope you find the above listed strategies to be helpful. Now please know, the first step in changing any behavior is to first be aware of what is occurring. Once aware, be determined to exercise grace with yourself. Changing any habitual behavior is difficult and it will take time, patience, and practice. So please remember, wherever you are on this journey, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it going. Until next time. Happy reading.
"It is only possible to live happily ever after on a day-to-day basis." ~Margaret Bonnano
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