Imagine some dreadful thing has just happened during your day. Maybe you just got into a fight with your best friend or you found out you are failing a class and will have to take it again next year, problems with your significant other, etc. Not catastrophic, but very upsetting nonetheless.
Maybe you’re overwhelmed, angry or sad. Not only are you dealing with these feelings, but you are also stuck at school for the rest of the day.
At times like this, when we have no choice but to stick it out and cope with our feelings, using emotional regulation skills at school and out of school can be very useful.
Feelings aren’t the enemy, even if they feel like it sometimes. Learning to observe your feelings, notice where you are carrying them (in your body) and channel your energy to change your mood are all helpful skills to have during difficult moment.
Try A Few Things To See What Works
There are many ways to emotionally self regulate, and only one YOU. If you try a technique and find it doesn’t work for you, try others. Also, part of skill building is practice, so try some of the techniques while you are in a good space so that they will come more naturally during the difficult moments when you need them.
Observe Mind And Body
As mentioned above, a good starting point is to use some mindful observation to narrow in on your emotional and physical state.
*Try to name the emotions that you are feeling. (Angry, sad, anxious, etc)
*Notice where in your body the feelings are showing up. (Do you have clenched teeth? A knot in your stomach? Is your heart beating faster than usual?)
*Work on self compassion about your emotions and your physical feelings, just as you would with a small child who is upset. Rather than fighting against your feelings, see if you can sit with them for a few minutes, observing their space in your mind and body. It’s ok to feel upset. Sometimes we forget that.
Try The Reset Button
Whenever we call tech support, one of the first things they suggest is to hit reset, right? Unplug the device, or restart it. Sometimes we need the same thing.
Getting a good night sleep is often key to a healthy reset for the next day, but during the day when we have to keep on keepin’ on, other skills are needed.
Try a few mind/body resets such as:
*4-7-8 breathing. (Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of seven, breathe out for a count of eight). This technique works well for anxiety, as it sends relaxation messages to the brain as you are expelling more oxygen than what you are taking in. Also, focusing on the numbers help distract from the emotion.
*Brisk walk or jog. (Exercise gets the endorphins going, which is a natural feel-good booster for the brain).
*Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Relax the muscles in your body, focusing on one area at a time, from head to toe.
Distraction In Action
Usually when we hear the word “distracted” it’s not in a positive context, but when it comes to emotional regulation, healthy distraction is one of the best things we can do. It is easy to become hyper-focused on our feelings and the situation at hand, so try some of these intentional distractions to broaden your attention in the moment:
*If you are able to, move away from the distressing situation. (Stop engaging and walk away if it is an argument or if you are around a lot of people, try to find a less populated area).
*Give yourself an observation task, such as trying to spot all of the items in the area that have blue on them; or trying to recall the names of all 50 states. Something that has absolutely nothing to do with what is upsetting you.
Your mind will undoubtedly circle back to your distress. Observe it, without judgment, and go back to your distraction.
Treat Yourself Well
What do you enjoy? Self-soothing techniques offers your senses a distraction from what is going on.
*Do you have your phone and earbuds? Listen to some comedy online, or some music that will help carry you away from the situation.
*Find ways to engage your senses; relaxing smells and soothing textures offer tactile and sensory input that can have surprising effect on mood.
*You could even create a small “emergency stress kit” for your locker filled with sensory goodies to help at time like this. (Think favorite gum, silly putty to squeeze out aggressions, some aroma therapy supplies).
If your friend were going through this, what would you tell them to help them feel better? Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we can (and should) talk to ourselves with just as much love and compassion as we would a friend. Our relationship with self is the most important relationship we have in life.
Come up with some simple mantras to remember and repeat during difficult moments. Here are a few examples, but if these don’t feel right to you, create one that feels more natural and write it down to keep in your pocket:
*This too shall pass.
*Tomorrow will be better.
*I’m a strong person and will get through this.
*Things will turn out ok.
*I will be ok.
*It’s ok to feel this way, it won’t last forever.
*I have a lot of great qualities. I honor the best parts of myself.
Regardless of what your day brings, remember that all emotional states are temporary (even the good ones, unfortunately!) Throughout the day our emotional state changes many times and this especially important to remember when an unpleasant feeling is lurking around. Remember to practice the emotional regulation skills at school (and in other settings) when you are feeling good in order to have the skills perfected when a difficult moment arises. Be patient with yourself if it isn’t easy at first. You are worth it.