By Bojan Musil, University of Maribor
It is common to experience emotions such as sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, shame, and guilt when we are in an unfamiliar situation or when we are experiencing conflict or abuse (you can also read more about these emotions in our 2nd newsletter!). These emotions can often feel very overwhelming and can sometimes be overpowering. Therefore, it is important that we know how to manage or regulate our emotions. This means that we influence what emotions we experience, when and how we experience and express them (Gross, 2002). Emotion regulation often involves “down-regulation”, which means that an individual purposefully reduces the intensity of the emotion they are experiencing. If someone is feeling very anxious before an important event, they might distract themselves from thinking about the event by focusing on other things. Emotion regulation also entails strategies such as reappraisal, which means that an individual re-assesses the situation that they are in and try to think of different explanations for what is. Emotion regulation strategies can be learned and help with coping in the long term (LeBlanc, Uzun, Pourseied & Mohiyeddini, 2017). Below, you can find some strategies that can help you manage your own emotions in difficult situations.
1. Take ten breaths: take ten show, deep breaths. Focus on breathing out as slowly as possible until your lungs are completely empty, and then allow them to refill by themselves.
2. STOP technique: when you are feeling overwhelmed, stop and step back. Do not act immediately and instead pause. Take a breath and notice as you breathe in and out. Observe your feelings and thoughts. Put the situation in some perspective – try to see the situation as an outside observer.
3. Visualization: create in your mind an ideal spot to relax. It can be real or imaginary. Imagine it in as much detail as you can – use your senses to make it as real as possible. Now close your eyes and take a slow breath in through your nose. Focus on your relaxation place in all its detail and breathe slowly.
4. Cognitive coping cards: try to identify some thoughts or actions that are helpful when you are feeling upset and write them on a card. It can be anything from reminders that the situation will pass, reminders of the skills that help you (e.g.: take a deep breath) or some calming thoughts. Use it when you are feeling overwhelmed.
5. Reattribution technique: when you are feeling upset, stop and try to identify the thoughts are crossing your mind. Try to come up with alternative explanations of the events.
Of course, these techniques will not help you manage your interpersonal relationships or manage disagreements that you have with others. These techniques, however, can help you to calm your intense emotions when you are in a difficult situation. This allows you to assess the situation better and think of possible solutions or other actions you can take to address the situation.
Gross, J. J. (2002). Emotion regulation: Affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39, 281–291.
LeBlanc, S., Uzun, B., Pourseied, K., & Mohiyeddini, C. (2017). Effect of an emotion regulation training program on mental well-being. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 67(1), 108–123.