Out of control
The kids were yelling, work deadlines were looming, and mountains of clutter on the kitchen table were teetering precariously, threatening to end in a landslide of books and overdue bills heading for the floor.
Sarah was overwhelmed.
The kids were home all day, the heat was heavy, and ice pop residue made everything sticky. Sarah’s three-year-old daughter had gleefully overturned her cup of apple juice, and the puddle was creeping too quickly toward a stack of work papers. Everything just seemed to be spiraling out of control…and these “can’t-handle-this” moments were occurring with more and more frequency.
Sarah took the requisite deep breaths and tried counting to ten. Still, there was a pit in her stomach and her chest was tight.
She couldn’t handle another moment of it.
She hollered at her kids, “Be quiet this instant and clean up now or there will be no more ice pops!” She stalked off to her room, slamming the door behind her, as tears appeared in the corners of her eyes. She swiped at them angrily and collapsed on her bed, balling her fists. She wondered why life seemed so unfair and why she couldn’t keep it from coming apart at the seams.
Back in control
What Sarah didn’t know was that there was one thing which she had a lot more control over than she’d ever realized. In fact, taking control over this one element would transform her life and enable her to feel that she was living her best life once again.
That one component which would enable her to feel confident and joyful again was her emotions.
Wait—emotions aren’t bad?
If you relate to Sarah, or experience intense emotions, you may be afraid of your emotions—and you’re not alone. Feelings can be uncomfortable, and schools, workplaces, and society at large do not teach us to embrace our emotions. Often, emotions are viewed as negative or toxic.
For many, the fear of emotions is rooted in the intense reactions that emotions seem to induce: angry comments, explosive yelling, sullen withdrawal, or emotional eating.
However, emotions are not the negative factor at play. The difficulty begins when you allow an intense emotion to overtake you and cause you to take ineffective actions.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can choose to be the one in charge. Instead of allowing intense emotional reactions and their urges to control you, you can take control of them.
Sadly, most people don’t realize that emotions should be their best friends. Emotions are guiding signals which assist us throughout life.
Time for change
Sarah realized that she wasn’t managing her emotions successfully and that it was time to create change and regain control.
That’s when I met her. I specialize in teaching emotion regulation skills to women, and I’m perpetually inspired by the transformative results emotion regulation has on my clients and on myself.
Emotion regulation skills are the tools one needs to modulate his/her emotions and respond appropriately to them.
Gaining these skills will give you the confidence to manage intense emotions and control your reactions to them. Equipped with emotion regulation skills, you are prepared to skillfully and effectively manage any emotion that arises.
And so, Sarah’s mood-making journey began…
Sarah and I worked on her emotion regulation skills as she learned to become what I call a mood-maker—someone who is in control of her moods and reactions. We began with the most crucial first step: identifying feelings and accepting them without fighting or judging them.
It took hard work and practice, but in just a short while, Sarah became a pro.
She’d apply her newfound skills when she noticed an emotional surge. This happened one night, after a long day of work. In the midst of noise and chaotic mess, her husband called to let her know he was going to be home very late, yet again.
She identified her thought—he is insensitive to my needs and the fact that I need his help with bedtime.
She named her feelings—I feel lonely, and I’m resentful that he’s not here.
And she accepted the emotions without rejecting or denying them.
There was no exploding, no yelling, no drowning in the emotion which would have previously necessitated a long cry-in-bed session.
You can do this too
The first step in emotion regulation is to name what you’re feeling when you notice your emotional temperature rising.
You’re going to need a strong, expansive feelings vocabulary, because emotions are complex and varied. Simply “happy” and “sad” won’t adequately express your range of emotions.
Work on growing your feelings vocabulary and discerning the different nuances between emotions, like frustrated or angry or despairing.
When you feel an emotion rising, pause and pay attention. Identify the name of the feeling, what thoughts you are having, the sensations you feel in your body, and what action the emotion urges you to take.
Then allow it to be. Envision the emotion as a tornado raging in front of you, as opposed to within you. You can watch your emotion’s intensity without getting sucked into it.
Calm the storm
Once you’ve come to realize that you are not the emotion, you can choose to focus on the trigger and enlarge the tornado, or you can calm it down.
You can bring your emotional level down by employing a calming skill—engaging in an activity which distracts your attention from the emotion and relaxes you.
Choose a calming skill which works for you, to help lessen the intensity of the emotion. Calming skills can include painting, journaling, taking a walk, drinking ice water or a hot drink, running up and down the stairs, deep breathing, or coloring in an adult coloring book. Choosing to calm your emotion and not to let it overwhelm you empowers you to feel stronger than the emotion.
A mood-maker is born
Through implementing emotion regulation skills, Sarah became confident and empowered. Emotions no longer caused eruptive explosions or quiet retreats. Sarah became okay with her emotions. They stopped overtaking her, and she was able to manage them. She learned that the power is truly in her hands.
Sarah even came to fall in love with her emotions—recognizing that just like a good friend, they have so much value to offer (and she could always count on them being there for her).
These were just the first steps Sarah took to gain control. But once she was able to identify, observe, and hear her emotions, she was able to learn to control them and her reactions to them.
These few steps made a huge difference in her life, and practicing them will impact your life as well.
You can own your moods
Can you relate to feeling overwhelming or intense emotions? Can you use emotion regulation skills to improve your life—and the lives of your loved ones?
Yes, you can take control of your emotions. Instead of having them dictate your life and causing you to take ineffective actions, you can be the boss.
Emotion regulation skills are simple to learn and implement. It takes hard work, but the results will permanently change your life—for the better—and you’ll be able to confidently and proudly call yourself a mood-maker.