Coping with Emotions
In any one day, we can experience many different emotions with varying degrees of highs and lows. Some emotions are easy to cope with but often emotions such as anger, anxiety, guilt and sadness can be more intense and difficult to deal with.
Everyone struggles with their emotions at times and it is completely normal. However, prolonged difficulties at managing emotions, which is called emotional dysregulation, is thought to have a big effect on good mental health and can lead to poor mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, stress disorders. Additionally, emotional dysregulation can have an impact on our physical health, causing digestive problems, immune problems and cardiovascular problems.
Window of Tolerance
We are not born knowing how to manage our emotions; this means that we must learn. A useful way to think about how we experience and manage our emotions is through the Window of Tolerance. The Window of Tolerance is a simple idea that says we all have a comfort zone where we can manage our emotions productively, based on how intense the emotion is.
The central ‘Window of Tolerance’ section is where emotional intensity is “just right”- not too high and not too low. Being in this zone allows us to become aware of emotions and make thoughtful decisions about how to respond to them. We think clearly, make decisions, remember things, and interact well with others. It is where we tend to feel most like our true selves.
When we are at the edge of our zone, we are emotionally vulnerable and very slight things can put us out. If we have trouble staying in the zone, then managing simple things in life can become very difficult.
When our emotions are too intense (sometimes called hyperarousal) then we may feel anxious, panicked, distraught, “hyper” or overwhelmed. When in this state it is very difficult to slow down, take stock of what we are feeling, and to act on those emotions in healthy ways. So, we tend to react impulsively, without thinking about the consequences. Often, when we experience emotional highs like this, it can be common for an emotional low to follow.
When our emotions are not intense enough (sometimes called hypoarousal) then we may feel depressed, numb, disconnected or empty. We may also experience a kind of zoning-out, or detachment from ourselves and the world (dissociation). When our emotional energy is too low it becomes very difficult to motivate ourselves, and at the extreme we may be unable to feel anything.
Ideally, we need to learn methods to regulate our emotions so that we are managing our emotions from a healthy ‘Window of Tolerance’. Fortunately, we can learn to regulate our emotions by identifying what we are feeling and using methods, which are simple yet effective, to helping us manage our emotions from our healthy ‘Window of Tolerance’.
Self-Care Tips to develop the ‘Window of Tolerance’
When we feel stressed our heart rate increases resulting in faster breathing and increased blood pressure. When we breathe deeply the brain instructs the body to calm down and relax. Deep breathing is one of the easiest methods to reduce stress in the body and can be done immediately without any special tools. One of the most popular methods of deep breathing is called…
1. Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position and relax.
2. Place one hand on your belly just below the ribs and the other hand on your chest.
3. Take a deep breath through your nose, and let your stomach push your hand away. The chest should not move.
4. Breath out through pursed lips and feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push out the air.
5. Repeat 3 – 10 times taking your time with each breath.
6. Repeat throughout the week to strengthen your diaphragm and to develop a more efficient way of breathing.
Yoga & Meditation
We know that Yoga is beneficial in increasing flexibility and muscle strength but Yoga is beneficial for both good physical and mental health. Some benefits include…
Boosting the Immune System
Decreased Blood Pressure
Lowers Cortisol Levels (High levels can compromise the immune system)
Lower Blood Sugar Levels
Encourages relaxation and Deep Breathing.
Maintains the Nervous System
Helps prevent IBS and other digestive problems
Helps lower Depression.
Promotes deep relaxation
Promotes deep sleep.
Connect with the skin - be it Massage, Self-Massage, Foot Massage. Connecting with the skin can…
Reduce Skin Toxins
Boost the Immune System
Nourishes the Skin
Grounding Techniques to reconnect.
These are useful for dealing with anxiety, creating a calmness in the present moment from where we can look at alternative ways of dealing with an overwhelming situation...
Scrunch the hands and feet
Stomp the feet
A simple but effective grounding technique is to…
1.Sit in a chair with both feet flat to the floor.
2.Lean back into the chair noticing the feeling if the chair under you and against your back.
3.Cross your arms over your chest.
4.Gently tap your shoulders, alternating one side at a time.
Other people – Meet up with friends. Join local social groups.
Nature…focus on the present - what can you hear, smell, see, touch or taste.
Mindfulness is a practice that can help reduce anxiety and stress and research has shown that intruding mindfulness into your life can have positive effects on the whole-person health, including the mind, the brain and the body.
Be Creative… Draw, Journal, Paint or play an instrument.
Sing /Dance – Engage with music you love and dance like no one is watching!
Create a Coping Skills Tool Box.
Create a box full of item that can help provide calming and self-relaxation techniques at times of high stress levels or anxiety. Some suggestions on what to put in your coping box …
Candles, essential oils, perfume, body lotion
Soft Toy / Soft Blanket
Paper, Pens and Crayons
Stress Ball /Rubik Cube
Book of favourite poems
Creative material -knitting etc
And Finally.....Spend time with people / children who make you laugh.
Healthy Boundaries and Why You Need Them.
Personal boundaries are the limits you decide work for you on how people can treat you, how they can behave around you, and what they can expect from you.
If you find the concept of healthy boundaries difficult to understand, think of other sorts of boundaries. Property lines, garden fences, lines in the sand…. do you have any such markers, limits, or ‘stop signs’ in your personal life?
Why do I need boundaries?
If you don’t set healthy boundaries, you are likely to constantly be at the mercies of others. This means you allow others to tell you how to think, act, and feel. It also means you tend to spend your time and energy doing what others want you to do over what you deep down want to do. Long term this can lead to frustration and depression because you will feel unfulfilled or lost.
At its worse, not setting boundaries allow others to do things to you that are upsetting or even harmful. If you don’t set boundaries, people won’t know how to act around you, and you will be left feeling disrespected. The other side of this coin is that without your own boundaries you are less likely to recognise those of others, and might unwittingly be disrespecting them.
Key Signs that you lack strong boundaries
1.You are socially anxious - It is usual for someone with weak emotional boundaries to walk into a room and believe everyone notices or cares. You may even think you know what others are thinking about you, what judgments they cast and so forth. This leads to terrible self-consciousness and social anxiety. Responding as if you know what is in the minds and hearts of other people is a fundamental boundary confusion issue.
2. You’re easily overwhelmed emotionally. This can happen if you don’t instinctively know where to draw the lines of emotional responsibility between self and other. You may be carrying the burden of others’ emotions for which you aren’t responsible. For the most part, if you are clear about where to take responsibility and where your emotional responsibility ends, you can usually manage your emotions without getting overwhelmed.
3. You seek approval - Unable to distinguish your emotions (that you can control) from the emotions of others (that you cannot control) you seek to win over others by pleasing them or casting yourself in a favorable light. It comes from not having the experience that you have no idea what others may be thinking and that it is not your responsibility regardless. Unable to separate your self-worth from what you believe others are thinking about you, you are highly motivated to impress.
4. Your relationships tend to be difficult or dramatic. Having few or no boundaries give others a signal that you don’t know how to take care of yourself. Healthy relationships are based on honesty and compromise. If you are saying “yes” to something when you would rather be saying “no” or spending all your time doing what the others want will eventually lead to feelings of resentment. This often leads to you trying to manipulate back the energy and power you lost by nagging the other person or complaining, or even punishing them in little ways. In other words, a bad case of passive aggression. You might also blame others all the time, which is a way of not facing up to the fact that really, you didn’t set a boundary, and that you are the one who is responsible for your life.
5. You hate letting other people down. Do you hate letting friends and family down or feel anxious about not being able to meet the needs of others? Or do you often change your plans to meet the needs of others? People without boundaries tend to go along with other people’s plans, or worry about letting other people down to the extent they just say yes even when they would prefer to say no.
6. Two words – guilt and anxiety. Do you think that you are responsible for others’ happiness? If you lack boundaries you suffer from ongoing guilt and fear and probably feel responsible if others aren’t happy.
7. You often feel exhausted. Do you feel constantly busy with little or no time for yourself? Always doing what others want means you are left to cram your own life in the time leftover, which is exhausting. The more time you spend doing things for others, the less time you have for yourself. And this means you have less time to get done what you need to, leaving you constantly experiencing stress as you try to ‘fit in’ what you need to do or rush through things you meant to enjoy or at worst ignoring your own needs. Setting boundaries, on the other hand, tends to be enlivening freeing up time that you can use for your own self-care and well-being.
8. You often don’t know your true self. Even if you don’t realise it, you are probably often doing what others want instead of what you want and basing your opinion of yourself on what others think of you. This can leave you feeling angry or annoyed with yourself and constantly worried about how others view you.
9. Your secret fear is of being rejected or abandoned. Lacking boundaries can often be traced back to a childhood where you took on the message that to not do what others want you to do results in being rejected or abandoned. Both the seeking approval and the socially anxious boundary issues are self-sabotaging behaviors that are derived from a rejection attachment.
A rejection attachment gets triggered when we unwittingly seek out rejection from others. When we are feeling that others are rejecting us, we are in fact, rejecting ourselves. When we seek to over-please people because we fear being rejected, we are inviting rejection from them. We aren’t consciously aware this is what we are doing, yet the result proves this attachment to rejection because the result is ultimately ending in rejection.
Understanding this self-sabotage allows us to make other choices on how to behave where we are no longer seeking rejection but getting what we consciously want to receive, acceptance.
How can I set healthy boundaries?
What we are striving for is healthy interdependent relationships. We want friends who are allies. With alliances, it is necessary to negotiate boundaries. Here is what I am willing to do, and here is what I need from you.
We want a romantic relationship with a partner who will share our journey with us. To make that possible it is necessary to communicate, share feelings, and negotiate agreements about behaviour. By setting boundaries, we are communicating with another person.
We are telling them who we are and what we need. It is much more effective to do that directly and honestly than to expect them to read our minds - and then punish them when they cannot.
One of the first steps is in realizing that the purpose of having boundaries is to protect and take care of ourselves. Setting healthy boundaries involves taking care of yourself and knowing what you like, need, want, and don’t want. Learning how to set boundaries is a necessary step in learning to be a friend to ourselves. It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves - to protect ourselves when it is necessary. It is impossible to learn to be loving to ourselves without owning our self - and owning our rights and responsibilities as co-creators of our lives.
Changing our relationship with ourselves is vital in order to make any long-term changes in our relationships with others. It is vital to learn to respect and honour our selves, so that we can awaken to the need to have boundaries that let other people know that we deserve and demand respect.
If certain situations and people aren’t matching your truth, they will either adjust their behavior or depart from your reality. Boundaries can be a gift to others as well as protection for your time and resources. Telling someone no can be a sign of trust and respect. Setting boundaries with others gives them permission to do the same.
We need to start learning how to be emotionally honest with ourselves, how to start owing our feelings, and how to communicate in a direct and honest manner. Setting personal boundaries is vital part of healthy relationships - which are not possible without communication.
The first thing that we need to learn to do is communicate without blaming. That means, stop saying things like: you make me so angry; you hurt me; you make me crazy; how could you do that to me after all I have done for you; etc. as they instantly place blame.
Gael Lindenfield, the author of ‘Assert Yourself’ and ‘Self-Care’ suggest the following methods for assertive communication…
1. Using “I” statements. “I” statements “help you own your own feelings and allow your partner to feel more at ease and less defensive.” Rather than saying, “You need to do this,” or “You should always,” use such phrases as: “I feel,” or “I would appreciate,” or “I would like it if”
2. The sandwich approach. This consists of a compliment, criticism, compliment. Starting with a compliment prevents your partner from getting defensive. This primes them for a little criticism, they feel connected and comfortable enough to take it, and then it closes with a compliment.
3. Using the broken record technique. Repeat over and over again, in an assertive relaxed manner, what you want or need, until the other person gives in or agrees to negotiate with you.
For more information on assertiveness techniques I recommend the following some books
Assert Yourself by Gael Lindenfield
Self Esteem by Gael Lindenfield
Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How To Say No by Henry Cloud & John Townsend
And remember…Counselling can provide the opportunity to explore and understand the reasons that you have weak boundaries and help you take responsibility of your life.