How to Calm Yourself – Introduction
By Diane Cerven
There are times when we become overwhelmed, flooded with emotions. At those times our anger, anxiety, depression, disappointment, guilt, shame, fear… the list goes on, they take over our brain and we respond, well, emotionally. Some people are more emotional people, they’re just born that way, but most everyone can relate to losing emotional control. A time, let’s be honest, timeS, in our lives when we react based on our emotions.
I’ll start with a good emotion, one we all like feeling as an example, love. The saying ‘love is blind’ is so true. It gives us energy, we can stay up all night talking or just thinking about the one we love. Their flaws and annoyances disappear, sometimes even rational thought that would save us disappears, and we act emotionally. We allow love to take over, and since it feels so good we don’t complain (though we all have our share of regret).
But what about the other emotions? When anger sweeps through us? When we are so anxious that we freeze? Or our depressive brain tells us no one cares, just stay in bed. What are we supposed to do then? Do we just let our brains react and behave as our emotions dictate? Well, some of us do, and all of us have. Is there a better way? Well, I’m glad I asked.
What Can I Do About My Emotions?
One of the simplest things we can do when our emotions threaten to overwhelm us is to practice a coping skill or coping mechanism, as some call it. These are ways of controlling, or at least lessening the intensity of our emotions so that we can allow our logic brain time to help. Emotions are a sign. They’re trying to tell us something. The larger the emotion, the bigger the sign. Let’s use annoyance as an example. We can all think of something that annoys us.
I’ll choose someone clicking a pen over and over again. It’s distracting. Our brain can’t focus on what we’re doing. The repetitiveness starts to grate at our nerves. As it continues, our annoyance increases and increases until we make an emotional response to the miscreant that floods our ears with their click, click, clicking (PS – name calling increases that angry feeling). We snap, we bark something, “Do you mind!?”, or “Stop!” or even “Shut it!”. Just now, our emotional brain has left a mean message, we’re in a foul mood, and hopefully, once we’ve recovered and calmed down, we have remorse for how we acted. Not good dude, not good because the emotional mind made the call of what to say and because it’s emotional it didn’t do it well, it was rude.
Now if we were the clicking perpetrator. We’re offended, maybe we’re anxious now (depending on who is saying it and what we know of that person). Heck, maybe we were nervous to begin with, which led to the clicking to get rid of nervous energy and now we’re even worse. Now we have a choice, and the typical choice is not to say something like, “hey man, I’m sorry. I’m really nervous and wasn’t paying attention.” Wow, wouldn’t that be a nice responder (this person is emotionally healthy). The typical response however when we’re verbally attacked is to get defensive. We’re emotional and we’re acting it, so we find another way to act out our anxiety, shaking our leg, chewing on the pen, etc. Or we hide our anxiety with anger and say something back, maybe not verbally either but with body language, like glaring at them with a ‘come at me bro’ look on our face. This is escalating, isn’t it.
Instead of being the emotionally annoyed person who lashes out or the anxious person who is letting off anxious energy but not decreasing it we can have emotional intelligence and handle our own emotions by self-soothing. Same situation, clicking pen (you can conger up an annoyance you have too, make this real). You feel your annoyance rising. This time instead of letting it go to the braking point you choose another way…and that way is, let’s tie it to the top now, a coping skill.
We here at Lake Country Associates would like to offer coping skills for you to use. Our goal is to do a coping skill a week, over the next year. Actually, each month we are going to pick another category of coping skills, and make sure you get a nice list of them during that month. Each week we’ll have at least one, but most likely several coping skills. The hope is to help you to deal with your emotions affectively, so that you don’t become flooded and make emotional decisions, like lashing out. Come back weekly to learn some new ones and pick the ones that work for you in the situations you need them in. I don’t want to minimize mental health by acting like coping skills are a cure all, but they can help in many situations.
Let’s start with the category of distraction. Technically, all coping skills fit into this category because they get your mind on something else, we’ll get more specific later. For this first coping skills blog we are going to teach you the counselors coping skill number one pick. No really, it’s that basic, BUT we need to include it because of it’s importance. For this next week, and well for forever after that, I want you to practice deep breathing. There are several different ways of doing deep breathing, I’m going to teach the way that works great for me and doesn’t make me light headed. Let’s begin.
Get into a comfortable position. Feet on the floor, arms relaxed, shoulders down. Now slowly inhale, fill up your lungs and all the way down into your belly, fill your lungs as full as you can, and hold it. Now slowly exhale, letting all the air out. Repeat; inhale slowly, filling your lungs completely, hold it for a second, and slowly exhale, letting it all out. One more time; inhale, filling all the way up, hold it, and exhale slowly, releasing any remaining tension in your body. Feel your body relax. And that’s it. The more you practice this technique, the calmer you’ll feel at the end. Plus, you get a muscle memory so that just thinking about doing deep breathing will cause an automatic relaxation, which when you then practice deep breathing, you will feel even more relaxed at the end. You see, you can’t be in a state of emotional tension and relaxed at the same time.
There you have it, your first coping skill. You can come back here and be led through deep breathing, use it on your own, or even walk through it with a loved one (your kids can love this too). Some variations: balloon breathing (literally get a balloon…it takes very deep breaths to blow them up), bubbles, or add imagery like smelling in something delicious (like fresh cookies, hot chocolate, a flower, etc), and then slowly breathing out (if it’s hot chocolate or a hot cookie you can imagine blowing on it to cool it down). You can also tell yourself that you’re breathing in peace and breathing out anger or anxiety or sadness (or use the words that work best for you). Practice this, practice this with your kids, teach your friends, you can do this.
What’s the Next Step to Calming Myself?
Join us next week when we go over another distraction skill to help with our emotional regulation. As I mentioned before coping skills help but are not a solution to major mental illness. If you need more help we’re here for you. To make a counseling appointment call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji).
Please check out our staff bios. You can view mine here.
Watch Part 1 of Calming Yourself:
Next Article: 20 Minute Distraction for Emotional Health