This week we look at an area that has been shown to be of critical importance in many areas- from the school yard to the board room; how we control and regulate our emotional responses to situations. I use the term Emotional Competence to cover how we manage, process and understand our emotions across the spectrum.
You will benefit from concentrating in this area if you rated the statements like this in the survey with Strongly Disagree, Disagree or Neutral.
After something stressful, I can usually calm myself down quickly
Other people would describe me as a calm person
When someone else makes me upset, I can usually soothe myself.
Let’s talk about emotions first up. Here are a few pointers that perhaps you didn’t know.
1. Emotions are involuntary.
Learning this was a huge ‘a-ha’ moment for me. Our bodies perceive an emotional stimulus (something scary, a threat, a reason for laughter) and the emotional response kicks in automatically. That’s why it’s useless telling yourself or other people that you ‘shouldn’t feel that way’.
2. Thinking lags behind emotions.
Once the emotional response has kicked it, it then travels up to our higher cortical reasoning brain to get validated. This is the reason that taking a breath or counting to 10 can help you stay in control- it gives the brain enough lag time for our thinking to set in.
3. We are primed towards negative responses.
Again, I was so happy to learn that I wasn’t just an irretrievable pessimist- it just seems that our first thoughts are primed towards the negative. There are a number of theories around this, including an evolutionary advantage to erring on the side of safety, but I’ll let you have a think about it and notice what you yourself do.
So, there you have it- our instinctive, initial responses are involuntary, thought free and primed towards negative interpretation. Does that mean that we have no hope? No! The most important thing here is our second response- what we choose to do with the emotion once it arises.
Take a break
It need only be a very short break, but we need to break the circuit of thoughtless reacting. This can be done through focusing on your breathing, saying a short phrase like “relax” or counting before responding. Let your cognition kick in first, especially when you are in a heightened state.
Be aware of how much your emotions are controlled by other factors
Think about how much sleep you’ve had, how much caffeine or alcohol you’ve drunk or how the environment (noise, temperature) is impacting on you. Are these factors creating an overwhelming emotional state that is warping your responses?
Learn about your emotions. Learn to name how you are feeling and how you can adjust your mood. Sometimes we are reacting in ways that aren’t compatible with the original emotion. For example, we may be feeling afraid and we react with anger. The more you learn about your own habitual, emotional responses, the more you will have control over them as they arise.
I could talk about emotions and emotional competence all day. And for the record, we don’t need to dislike our emotions or think they are wrong. They play a vital role in our lives. For now, I want you to just take on board the idea that it’s possible to better control emotions .
Exercise: Feel, break, think: If you are feeling overwhelmed or notice that you tend to become overwhelmed easily, start to ‘mind the gap’ between feeling and thinking and break the circuit. Give yourself time for the thinking to kick in before reacting.
Exercise: Calming techniques: Learn some calming techniques such as walking, breathing exercises and meditation that can keep yourself more tranquil throughout the day. Meditation will come up next week, too.
Exercise: Changing moods: When you find yourself in a particularly negative mood, set about working out how to change that mood and do it. Is it music? A laugh? A walk outside? Although we often feel that we have a right to be in a bad mood (because someone else caused it) it actually doesn’t help you at all. We become less rational, less creative and less open when we are in a negative state. Try something different.
Exercise: External influencers: If you are often in a negative mood, look at what might be creating that- have you had enough sleep? Is your environment relaxing or too hot, crowded or cold? Are you getting anxious after too many cups of coffee? Start changing these external influencers and see if they make a difference.
Exercise: Know yourself: Start to notice and name your emotions, when you are feeling them and how you can change them. The more control you have over your emotional responses, the calmer you will feel each day.
Take care and stay steadfast…
Ingrid and the team.