As we grow and go to school, we learn how to read, how to calculate percentages, and how to put together an amazing oral report. However, there are certain things that school doesn’t cover, and many adults find themselves still unable to figure out. One essential skill that school doesn’t cover is emotional regulation. Although many of us make the mistake of assuming that emotional control is only a problem for people with behavioral issues, the truth is that everyone needs to find healthy ways to express emotions.
When emotions are hidden, denied, and suffocated, it can lead to a host of problems in our mental health, our ability to set and meet goals, and our personal relationships. In fact, many of today’s most common problems–addiction, marital conflict, and widespread depression–can be traced back to bad emotional control.
You would think that rising above life’s negative emotions would be a state of wellbeing, but psychologists teach us that that’s not the case either. Feelings don’t just disappear. Usually, their absence indicates numbness due to trauma or some kind of repression. During these stressful pandemic times, we need to be even more aware of our feelings and find healthy ways to deal with them.
Learn How to Identify Emotions from the Beginning
The earlier you start this habit, the easier it is, and so teaching children to recognize and name their emotions early on is a powerful tool. However, you can learn at any age. You’ll find that there’s a particular power simply in being able to identify those emotions that motivate your attitude and actions each day.
- Recognize and log physical manifestations of anxiety, depression, anger, and frustration.
- Start a journal that lets you fully talk out powerful emotions as they come up.
- Talk with someone who knows you well about your goal to better recognize your own emotional state. Ask them to ask you at key moments throughout the day, “How are you feeling now?” and give their own insights into emotions that you may not be able to see clearly.
- Start practicing meditation. One of the benefits of meditation is learning to recognize what’s going on internally without judgment. Essentially, it’s about setting aside time for focused reflection, and it gets easier and easier with practice. There’s a great video on Youtube. Beginners Guide to Meditation.
Take Life As It Comes
The world is an ambiguous place. On the one hand, there are aspects of our lives that we clearly can control, such as our inner thoughts, what we’re going to eat for dinner and what time we will go to bed. But on the other, some events are out of our control, such as what we look like, whether we have an accident, and what other people think about us.
A healthy person learns to accept this ambiguity. They know that some people get what they want from life after taking risks. But they also realize that there is an enormous population of unseen individuals who never get the things that they want.
Pretending to yourself that you have complete control over outcomes in your life is a recipe for disaster because it bumps up against reality. The world will rumble on, and events will sometimes run away from you. The mentally healthy person learns to accept this and rolls with the punches. She gets what’s happening around her is out of her control and runs with it, wherever it leads. If it’s not in her power to manipulate, then it doesn’t make sense to obsess over it.
Don’t Try To Please Everyone
This sign of a mentally healthy person relates to the one above. Making other people happy is a massive challenge. In some theoretical sense, it might be possible, but in practice, it’s not. You can’t go through life, continually managing the needs of others without regard for what is best for you. Eventually, you’re going to come into conflict with what you need.
Once you’ve learned to better recognize your own emotional state, how can you channel those emotions effectively? Well, the first step is to learn when to communicate. Rather than letting emotions build up until they spill out in unconstructive, and even destructure, ways it’s important to know when to communicate. Communicating emotions in a timely matter will lead to less stress and resentment at work, more harmonious relationships at home, and internal feelings of understanding and acceptance. Of course, it doesn’t always work as well as we’d hope. Sometimes we find that there are better ways that we can communicate, and other times, we’ll find that we need to be careful about who we share ourselves with. When re-evaluating communication technique, this is a great model to fall back on: “When _______ happens, I feel ________, and therefore I need _________.” If you’re not able to identify what you need, or the cause behind your emotions, then maybe it’s time to seek help from someone else.
Do Something about It
Often times, we become amazingly frustrated about things that we feel powerless to change. However, if we look closer, and manage our emotions, we learn that there’s actually more in our power than we think. True, sometimes “doing something about it” will require us to re-route our emotions into another outlet. However, this can be an incredibly useful outlet.
For example, are you feeling angry and frustrated because you’re under-appreciated at work? Well, sit down and make a plan. Identify ways that you can better show your contributions at work. Or perhaps, you’re simply not in a workplace that creates the best atmosphere for your abilities and needs. In that case, determine things you can do now that will empower you to move to a different job when the right time comes. This might include volunteering somewhere where you’ll be able to make effective contacts, or taking online courses to get qualifications you need for something new.
This outlet can also be really helpful when the source of anxiety and anger is a larger problem that is beyond your control. Again, this might require a re-route, but bear with me. Are you mad about how your friend was treated in a sensitive situation? Do something to be kinder to the people around you. Are you upset at some changes you perceive as negative in politics or society? Find ways to promote causes you believe in locally. The heart of this outlet is to “be the change you want to see in the world”. It might feel small, but you’ll find that your efforts aren’t wasted when you’re able to help people around you in personal ways.
One of the age-old methods of dealing with powerful emotions is to translate them into art. I think there are three reasons that this is such an effective way to channel emotions. (1) Some things can only be expressed with the level of abstraction and removal that art allows. (2) Channeling powerful emotions into art helps us to communicate them effectively, and communication opens relationships with others who have felt the same way. Recognizing that we’re not alone goes a long way in validating and healing heavy emotions. (3) Even the ugliest emotion can be transformed into something beautiful through art.
All right, so what if you’re not someone who’s naturally talented at any artistic medium? Well, start now! Enroll in classes, watch some YouTube videos, and start practicing. Remember that there’s no wrong art form–you might find expression in metalwork, baking, dance, or the tuba. The key is to get started, because as you refine your craft more and more, you’ll better be able to translate what’s inside into the physical world.
Your Inner Peace
How many people do you know who have a lingering sense of inner peace? Chances are, only a small minority. Feeling content most of the time is a massive challenge in our world – something that people have strived to do for millennia. These stressful times in the last 6 months can be dealt with in constructive ways that you define to help you achieve your priority – inner peace.
It turns out, though, that getting to this place requires just a few core changes in your beliefs and behaviors. The first is believing that you have to be perfect. You don’t. You can be “good enough” and still be a valuable person.
The second is changing your belief that life has to follow a predictable, reliable pattern. All of us are victims of the romantic movement in this sense. We believe that our careers, relationships, and families have to be entirely satisfying. But the reality is that they can never live up to the “happily ever after” ideal portrayed in fiction. Conflict will necessarily arise.
Third, it requires focusing on the environmental factors that might disrupt your inner peace. Things like smoking, eating a poor diet, and not bothering to get physical activity can harm the body and leave you exhausted.
Finally, lack of inner peace could result from problems with your neurochemistry, a topic you can learn more about if you click here. Essentially, brains can get out of whack and require bringing back to the center. Thus, prioritizing your inner peace often means changing your internal monolog to something more positive and changing environmental factors, such as your diet. The little things can all add up to profound changes over time.
You Belong To Something
A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Feeling that you belong is most important in seeing value in life and in coping with intensely painful emotions. Some find belonging in a church, some with friends, some with family, and some on Twitter or other social media. Some see themselves as connected only to one or two people. Others believe and feel a connection to all people the world over, to humanity. Common sense and research has shown that having a loving pet who is happy to see you is a major health boost physically and mentally. Whether a dog, cat, horse, or bird, you are responsible for the well being of a living creature who loves you. PTSD soldiers returning home from war find great comfort in animals. Most of us also feel more complete when on the receiving end of love from a furry family member.
You Accept Fluctuations In How You Feel As Natural
Fundamentally, emotions are nothing more than pieces of information we use to tell us whether we are in a good situation or not. For instance, when you are with somebody you love, your brain releases feel-good hormones that make you feel relaxed and content with life. By contrast, when you’re in danger, you feel anxious, telling you to avoid the situation.
Fluctuations in how you feel, therefore, are just a normal part of life. There will be times when you inevitably feel bad. It seems inevitable. But there are also times when you’ll feel good. The healthy person understands intellectually that both of these states are just inevitable parts of life. It’s impossible for anyone to feel good all the time. And that’s okay. You are okay and are enough.
I hope these ideas are helpful during times of stress like our current world situation. Fear, anger, and depression can come from the stress we experience. Sending you warm thoughts and a virtual hug! Thanks for coming by.
This is a collaborative post but all opinons are my own. Photos via Pixabay.
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