In school we are taught how to solve the equation for y when 3(2y + 4) = 8y. We’re taught periodic tables, Pythagoras Theorem, how to interpret Shakespeare but we’re never taught the very necessary and life altering skill of how to manage our emotions. 🤯 Instead of teaching us that it’s OK to feel what we feel and how to experience these feelings we’re told to stop crying, suck it up or to get over it. We get in trouble and reprimanded for being angry. We’re considered weak if we feel scared. These negative perceptions and reactions towards our emotions is why most people are scared to allow themselves to feel what they’re feeling and end up denying, repressing, avoiding, and projecting their emotions onto others.
If we’re scared to acknowledge or experience our emotions then we’ll never truly know what we feel. A common example of this is when we say we’re angry about something when, in fact, we’re really sad or scared. Anger is generally a secondary emotion. If we’re not aware of this then we end up addressing the problem inappropriately. We address the problem from a state of anger, which can often end up causing conflict as opposed to resolution. We need to be able to know what we’re feeling so that we can accurately process why we’re feeling it. From there we can determine how to address the problem or situation.
Emotions are a normal, healthy part of being human. More time needs to be spent normalizing and accepting these emotions as opposed to them being minimized, demeaned and villainized. There are many techniques and coping skills that can help us feel what we feel and manage our emotions in a safe, appropriate manner.
For coping skills to work effectively we must consciously use them to engage in activities that help us decrease symptoms and reduce stress on our body. Coping skills are easier to implement when done as soon as we notice the onset of symptoms or stress. This is why it’s important to have the mind, body awareness to know when your emotional stress begins to build. If we were to put your emotions on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest, most coping skills won’t work when we’re already at a 7. Imagine if you were at a seven and someone says, “Calm down. Just breathe.“ we’d probably feel like punching them in the face. Not only will it not work, it could actually make us worse.
When our emotions are at a higher level we usually need something more physically active to work through them such as working out, playing with a pet, venting to a trusted friend, etc. The key, however, to managing our emotions is to focus on prevention. If we can catch the build up at a lower level these coping skills can be highly effective.
1. Breathing Techniques
Engage in proper breathing by slowly breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Put one hand on your belly and the other hand on your heart. As you breathe in the hand on your belly should be sticking out more than the hand on your heart. As you breathe out the hand on your belly will go back down. Your belly should be moving in and out more than any other part of your body. This is what will be referred to as “proper breathing” for the rest of the described coping skills.
Engage in proper breathing (described above). When you’re ready, breathe in as much air as you can, hold your breath for 4 seconds and then breathe it out as slowly as possible. Go back to breathing normally and when you’re ready repeat it. when you exhale allow your body to relax and sink into the breath. Repeat as many times as needed.
Engage in proper breathing (described above). Breathe in through your nose for a count of 3 or more and out through the mouth for a count of 4 or more. The out breath needs to be longer than the in breath. Try to gradually increase the breath count to 4 and 5, 5 and 6, etc…
2. Heart-Centered Exercise
Put one hand on your heart and turn your focus inwards so that you can feel the beating of your heart. It helps to close your eyes. If you can’t feel it right away don’t panic. You’re not dead! This just shows how disconnected your mind may be from your body, which means this is a great exercise for you. Keep breathing and focus on your heart until you feel the beat.
Choose one of the following affirmations below or choose one of your own. Say it to yourself slowly either out loud or in your head (out loud is more powerful): I am calm. I am peaceful. I am loved. I am confident. I am strong. I can do this. I am safe. I am good. I am capable. I am worth it. I matter.
Repeat the affirmation until your you feel more calm.
Go through all 5 senses in your immediate surrounding: Say out loud 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you feel, 2 things you smell and 1 thing you can taste.
Using your sense of sound start by identifying the furthest thing you can hear and come in a little further until you reach your own body. For example- start with what you can hear outside your home (cars driving by, dog barking); come in closer to inside your yard (wind, bird); come in closer to inside the house (TV on in other room, someone talking); come in closer to inside the same room you’re in currently (air conditioner, fan); Come in closer to inside your body (heartbeat, swallowing).
Do the previous exercise by using your sight instead of sound. Start with the furthest thing you see and gradually make your way closer until you reach the smallest detail on your body (freckle, cuticle on finger).
4. Body Scan/Progressive Relaxation
Using visualization in your mind, one at a time, identify individual parts of your body starting with the top of your head. As you visualize each body part consciously relax it. (scalp, forehead, eyes, cheeks, jaw, neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands, fingers, chest, abdomen, back, hips, butt, thighs, knees, shins, ankles, feet, toes).
Sit or stand comfortably. This can be done anywhere. However, having your bare feet on the ground is ideal so you can be physically connected to the Earth. Engage in proper breathing. Visualize your body as the trunk of a thick, strong tree with its roots growing from your body and into the Earth. Breathe into this. Imagine the roots grow deeper into the Earth making your body stronger and able to withstand anything. Breathe into this. Keep imaging the roots going deeper as you become stronger and breathe into it at each step.