Emotion Regulation Skills: Adults Need Them Too!
Children and adolescents are not the only ones that are responsible for regulating their emotions. As adults, we are particularly vulnerable to multiple catalysts for stress, overwhelm and distress. There is a lot of pressure to balance and manage a multitude of demands and responsibilities- work tasks and time constraints, family obligations and duties, interpersonal relationships that require emotional and physical effort, child care, meal preparation and planning, cleaning and organization, medical care, and our own self-care to name a ‘few’ that we may encounter daily. Emotion Regulation Skills are essential for emotional well being.
Our Stress Response System
When we experience high demand, this activates feelings of overwhelm, tension and distress which in turn signals a stress response in the body. Our stress response system is known as our ‘fight or flight’ reaction and it operates from what we call the autonomic nervous system (part of our brain functioning).
It can be difficult to effectively operate and make decisions that align with our long term goals when we are in this reactive state. Our body’s goal at this moment is to ensure our safety. Many of our physiological responses when we experience a level of internal distress are automatic- heart rate, breathing, sweating and muscle tension change automatically.
For example, some of us when we experience intense feelings of anger, frustration, irritation may experience our face getting hot, our muscles tensing, teeth clenching, rapid heart rate and body temperature rising. Some of us may respond by attacking or wanting to defend ourselves verbally or physically.
Others may find that they shut down and numb out to the situation, dissociating from the present moment all together. Others may have the urge to leave or escape or want to escape and feel a sense of helplessness or powerlessness.
Emotion Regulation Skills
As adults, many of us may not have been taught emotion regulation skills or realized that our habits or daily decisions impact our mood and ability to manage difficult or challenging situations. Emotion regulation skills are meant to be preventative. Meaning that if we practice these skills when we are not dysregulated, they will help us maintain a stable mood and be able to respond appropriately to all of the emotions we experience without going to an extreme hyperarousal state or low hypoarousal state.
For instance, the term ‘hangry’ is a great example of how our eating habits can absolutely have an impact on our mood and therefore our ability to cope with daily stressors and interactions. In this example, depending on what we eat may impact our response to our children asking us the same questions over and over or our response to a family member who has just made a rude remark about something significant to you.
Here are a list of emotion regulation skills that are particularly important to incorporate into our daily practices and help in building new habits:
- Understand the function of emotions- start naming them for yourself and identifying what the emotion is communicating to you about what you are needing in a given situation. Start to understand which emotions motivate you, which ones do you tend to shut down and which ones are uncomfortable for you to feel.
- Reflect on what might make it difficult for you to regulate your emotions- do you have the right skills and know how to use them?, biological factors, does your environment reinforce your behaviors?, are you controlled by your moods?, do you always feel like you are in a crisis or completely overwhelmed to the point that skill use is ineffective?, and are there myths about emotions that you ascribe to, like certain emotions are ‘good’ or ‘bad’?
- Check the facts of the situation you are in- is your emotional reaction and the intensity of your emotion appropriate for the situation?
- Opposite Action- this is an effective skill to use when your emotional reaction does not fit the facts or if the emotion you are experiencing is appropriate, but acting on the emotion will promote harm to you/negative consequences.
- Problem Solving-this is an effective skill when your emotions do fit the facts of the situation and your reaction is appropriate. It is important to determine what it is that you are needing and how best to influence the situation so that a resolution can be reached.
- Build positive experiences now- engage in activities that are fulfilling to you and that you find intriguing, fascinating, or are curious about. Build these activities into your daily, weekly and monthly calendar in order to create a life worth living.
- Avoid avoiding and commit to long term goals- create specific and achievable ‘stepping stone’ goals that will help you accomplish a large task or goal for yourself.
- Build mastery in a skill or hobby- really practice and commit to growing and engaging in an activity (drawing, playing music, singing, exercising, walking, cooking, origami folding)
- Cope ahead for difficult situations- while we cannot predict the future, we can effectively brainstorm effective ways to manage situations that may be particularly stress inducing and anxiety-provoking by identifying healthy ways to deal with them.
- PLEASE- pay attention to your physical illness/physical health, eating habits, substance use/intake, sleep hygiene, and physical exercise.
In future blog posts, we will go more in depth with these skills and explore how they can be effectively utilized to prevent dysregulation.
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