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A Balanced Life: Regulating Emotions

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

One of the core beliefs in Emotion Focused Therapy is that it is our emotions that drive us – its emotions that start our internal engine and, depending on the emotion(s) that show up first, our mind’s respond in some fashion. If fear shows up, our mind usually responds with asking Why am I feeling so scared? If I am able to pinpoint the cause, then I can consider options for managing the fear, before it becomes overwhelming. If, on the other hand, I have no idea why I am experiencing fear (or anger, anxiety, sadness, etc), this most often increases one’s fear and anxiety, which can quickly become overwhelming, along with accompanying thoughts such as: Oh no! I can’t deal with this now. This is driving me crazy! and the fear intensifies.

The way our mind and body react and respond to emotions rising, becomes habitual over time. We all experience these response patterns, which continually get reinforced, with every repetition. For example: Oh no! here it comes again! My body feels the anxieties in my chest, my breaths shorter and faster, and my heart pounding. Thoughts get triggered…I can’t stay here….I have to get out……..I am going to faint…..I need help…..and so on. Other emotions also get triggered at this point – frustration, anger, guilt, etc. – often thinking, I’m losing my mind…everyone will think I’m crazy. This pessimistic thinking simply reinforces the rising emotions, which eventually leads to feeling overwhelmed, often choosing behaviours that are more self-destructive. This is the pattern I have seen in my private and professional life – the specific emotions, triggers, thoughts and actions clearly differ from one person to the next – but the pattern is the same. If one wishes to change that habitual cycle, to stop emotions from becoming overwhelming, one needs to be more prepared - breath control, planned change, and visual imagery are key components of emotional regulation (from my perspective). I have to imagine myself carrying out the plan for change in a successful manner – so that I can see myself respond and act differently than when an emotion becomes overwhelming. With this as a foundation of change, I imagine myself becoming capable of embracing all emotions that come - along with more positive and optimistic thoughts – and being able to then let those emotions go and move on. A new, more healthy way of being able to regulate emotions becomes the new pattern.

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