By: Brittany Keim, Therapist at The Center
Oftentimes, before we even know what emotion we are feeling, we experience physical symptoms that tell us that something is “off”. These symptoms can include: an accelerated heart rate, a pit in our stomach, or an all-encompassing feeling of heaviness. We ponder, “Why am I feeling this way?” This can be a tricky question to answer, which is why it is important to employ specific skills to assist us in identifying and understanding our big emotions.
Simply put, emotion regulation skills help us to manage and respond to an emotional experience in a productive way. When we know what we feel and why we feel that way, we are in a much better place to navigate a challenging situation and prepare for what is next to come.
Here are some tips to help you better understand and regulate your emotions:
- Recognize your early warning signs
As mentioned above, our emotions are usually accompanied by a physical reaction. It is helpful to catch these feelings in our body early on and before they overwhelm us. Take a moment now and ask yourself, “Where do I tend to feel my emotions?” Does your face become flushed? Does your stomach start to hurt? Does your chest get tight? These physical sensations can be thought of as hints that tell us that we are experiencing an emotion. The sooner we recognize these early warning signs, the sooner we can understand, regulate, and resolve our emotion. With practice, you may even be able to prevent big emotional reactions from happening in the first place!
- Slow down and try to avoid jumping to conclusions
When we are experiencing a big emotion, it can feel impossible to think clearly. Take a few deep breaths and think of something else you can put your attention on for a brief moment. In order to properly work through an emotional experience, you have to calm yourself down so that you have the mental clarity to do some critical thinking.
- Consider which emotion(s) you may be experiencing and then label your emotion(s)
It is important to identify what emotion or emotions you are feeling. Once you put a name to what you are feeling, you have valuable information. If you know what emotion you’re feeling, you’re one step closer to understanding what triggered you and why you are feeling that way.
- Observe, observe, observe! Be a detective!
Observe what is happening around you and consider what happened right before you started feeling that given emotion. Usually, the thing or event that occurred right before your emotional experience is what triggered you in the first place. Pay close attention to thoughts that you may be experiencing as this will also give you insight into why you are feeling some type of way.
- Ask yourself, “What do I want to get out of this situation?”
You’ve upgraded to problem solver! Now that you know what you’re feeling and why you are feeling that way, consider what actions will help you get what you want. Think through possible solutions and choose the option that you feel will benefit you the most. For instance, if you are feeling sad because you just found out that you didn’t perform well on a test, you likely want to improve your grade. You should accept your feelings of sadness, but it probably won’t help if you sit in your sadness for a long period of time or come to the conclusion that you’re done trying in school. Instead, start thinking of helpful solutions. You may conclude that it is best to ask a teacher for help or study more next time.
- Keep these steps in mind next time you encounter a similar situation
You’ve proven that you can work through a challenging emotional experience. Use this thinking process to help you in future situations. You will likely find that recognizing your triggers can help you the next time you encounter them.