As I mentioned previously, emotion regulation is a skill. To learn it you may need the help of a therapist. Once you learn this stuff, you will be able to be your own therapist, so to speak. Therapy would typically focus on:
- Self-monitoring: keeping daily diary cards of emotions and what event or thought provoked them as well as recording the impulse to react to that emotion with a particular behavior. There is no changing to be done here. You’d simply write things down as you notice them, without judging them. All that is required is acceptance and pen and paper.
- Skill training: focusing on breaking the event =>emotion =>reaction vicious cycle. Part of inability to regulate emotions lies in automatically reacting to them with a maladaptive behavior. For instance, for people who drink, an argument with the boss=anger=drinking. This happens without thinking. The goal here would be to break this chain.
- Exposure: this means to feel what you feel when you feel it. Soak it all up and sit with it without reacting. Yes, negative emotions are not pleasant but they are not the enemy here. The problem lies in low tolerance to negative emotions which leads to avoiding them by using other unhealthy distractions. Emotions do not last forever, they are just temporary states and riding them out helps you realize nothing extraordinary happened: you’re in one piece and the world is too.
- Behavioral activation: this means making actual changes. Trying new behaviors to replace the old ones. Argument with the boss may still equal anger but your reaction to it is no longer drinking. You want to think of a new behavior that is easy and somewhat pleasant to you. Because this is individual to you, it’s hard to come up with a magic formula.
- Cognitive restructuring: this entails breaking down irrational thoughts and challenging them with facts as if you and they were in an actual debate. Remember thoughts are not truth, they change as we change. Thoughts are not facts. And some thoughts are more rational than others. If you can change your thinking, you can change the way you feel and then there is nothing stopping you.
Here also some tips with Exposure (as this is very hard usually). The key to having a successful exposure is to master Core Mindfulness which entails several components:
1-Observe (sit in a quiet room with no distractions and as you settle into your breathing just notice what feelings and thought are coming up for you without reacting)
2-Describe (words are powerful, name your feelings, know the difference between angry and resentful, develop an emotional vocabulary)
3-Participate (this refers to developing a “wise mind” – the wise you, the observant you, the you who knows better, the you who occasionally talks to himself)
4-Be non-judgmental (observe and accept your feelings and thoughts without judging them, no negative self-talk, stop the parent in your brain telling you how bad you’ve been)
5-Be one-mindful (be in the present, your mind will try to propel you forward or keep you in the past, but the future doesn’t exist and the past is already gone, all you have is right now)