We can all learn to regulate our emotions when we’re hit with extreme stress
In my last blog, I brushed the surface of the very human experience of having difficulty regulating our emotions when we experience trauma or extreme stress. It’s something I see regularly with my clients (and myself sometimes), so I decided to go a little deeper this time.
Essentially, we have an optimal zone in which we can deal with typical daily stress effectively (our window of tolerance, a term coined by Dr. Dan Siegel), but when the proverbial train goes off the proverbial track, our brains and bodies make a split decision to fight, flight, or freeze, even when the most productive reaction – facing the train – is the most difficult and takes some practice.
There are two ways to stay within your optimal zone: expand your zone and self-regulate.
Great Laurie, thanks. But how do I do those things?
I’m glad you asked. Here are some things you can do to practice so when the time comes, you’re ready:
Practice Mindfulness. Being mindful helps to deal with undue stress and emotions by paying attention and staying in the present moment. It’s not about stopping unwanted stress or anxiety, but allowing those moments to pass without reacting in a negative way.
Self-Regulate. Find what makes you happy and do more of it! There’s real science to the effect happiness has on your brain and ability to fight dragons (or your bigger-than-typical stressors).
Reduce Shame. If you are constantly feeling embarrassed and self-critical, it can be debilitating to your mental health and make it difficult to deal with what life throws at you.
Build Resilience. I believe resilience is built over our lifetimes and we can’t build it without resistance. Think about this: a tree that is grown in an environment with no wind will not develop the inner strength to continue growing; it’ll fall over at a height it can no longer withstand. Here is a glimpse into a fascinating biological experiment that illustrates this. The key to becoming more resilient is to face challenges over time and recognize when you do. Celebrate your successes!
● When you start to feel anxious or uncomfortable, practice steadying your breathing, releasing your anger, or meditating.
● When you feel numb or ready to give up, notice your feet connecting with the ground.
● Write down what is bothering you or that long list of things to do. Clearing mental clutter can give you clarity, focus, and a realistic view of the situation.
● Try to reframe your negative thoughts into positive ones.
● Get moving! Any form of physical activity you enjoy will help, and a break away from the issue at hand can provide a new perspective when you come back to it.
● Pet your pet (my personal favourite). There’s nothing quite like a snuggle with my Rizzo to get me back to what’s important in life with a steady mindset.
Being able to self-regulate is a lifetime’s work. Today, choose a place to start.
Want more? Here is a great resource: https://www.mindmypeelings.com/blog/window-of-tolerance.