See the image below. What thoughts come to your mind? How do you feel?
If you love nature and seek adventure in life, this image might have felt like solace, but if you are afraid of heights, then it might have generated feelings of fear. Clearly our experiences, perceptions, fears, ambitions, values, relationships and situations impact the way we feel.
Hence, the adage, ‘you are what you think’.
We all know what happens when all that we are feeling on the inside isn’t portrayed accurately on the outside. Let’s discuss some of the ways to effectively manage our emotions:
Affect Labelling — Sharing and talking about our experiences with our loved ones, a therapist or journaling can help us feel better. In 2018, Torre and Lieberman found that naming our feelings attenuates activity in the amygdala (part of the brain that becomes active in the face of fear, anger or sadness). And so, labelling our emotions can be a form of unconscious, automatic way of regulating emotions.
We are not our emotions — Replace ‘I am sad’, with ‘I am feeling sad’. This can act as a reminder that this is my current feeling and may not last forever.
Locating the source — As humans, we tend to project our emotions in a socially acceptable way. A person mad at his/her boss might displace their anger on the partner. If you are feeling angry at someone, check if they are the true source of your anger. When we fail to locate the true source of our emotions we also fail to understand and regulate them.
Alternative Perceptions — Actively replacing negative thought patterns with constructive thoughts can change the way we feel. Look for alternative perspectives in a situation. Consider this, at night you are alone at home and hear a sudden thud and attribute it to a home invasion. This thought can make you feel afraid and threatened. Instead, if you connect this thud to weather or something less dangerous then you may not feel as fearful.
Rate your emotions — Sometimes without really understanding the intensity of our emotions we tend to use terms — such as depression or anxiety — to express ourselves. When we describe our concerns/worries as anxiety, or sadness as depression, we intensify our emotions. Expressing feelings out of proportion can make us feel that we are inadequate to control them. To avoid this, try rating your emotions on a scale of 1 to 10. For instance, if 1 is ‘concerned’ and 10 is ‘anxiety’, how would you rate your current feeling? Rating emotions is a simple way of recognizing the true intensity of our emotions.
Dealing with or managing emotions can be challenging. Becoming aware of one’s emotions can be the first step in effective emotional regulation. There are different ways to attain this awareness, such as expressive arts, mindfulness and music therapy. To get more insight you can check out ManoShala.
Muskan Gupta, Psychologist, ManoShala