Emotional regulation techniques: You, only better

Imagine having a secret toolkit of magic, where in a few minutes you can transform yourself from emotional wreck, to fairly serene human being. Imagine no more…

So, it’s three weeks into lock down and I am just so over it. The initial surreal siren screeching emergency shopping and getting everyone and everything to safety bit is done. This is it and we are here. Now comes the hard bit: the indefinite staying at home, the disciplined waiting it out, trying to stay healthy and keep everyone else well and healthy too. It is unsurprising that one of the biggest worries that key workers in health and social care have about situations like this, is about our physical health, but is also about our emotional health. It is anticipated that lock-down will lead to a sharp increase in call outs relating to anger, violence and domestic abuse. It has literally never been more important for us to manage our moods and practice good emotional regulation.

The tips here are easy to follow, and with quick results…

Breathing Exercises

I could tell you all sorts of things about breathing, but the simplest breathing exercise is to breathe in, to a count of four and breathe out to account of four. Try it.

Breathing works to quickly calm you by soothing your entire nervous system and switching it from fight or flight mode to the parasympathetic nervous system which conserves energy, slows the heart rate, and increases feelings of relaxation.

If you are too highly strung to focus on your breath, and need some help to do this, then try the CALM website where you follow the increasing and decreasing dot, to help slow your breathing right down.

© Rebaz Nasih

Stretching Exercises

There are loads of blogs and videos showing simple stretching exercises to advanced yoga postures. If you’re a beginner, then the ten simple stretching exercises by BUPA might be a good starting point for you.

If you want to move on from stretching and try Yoga, you’ll find that there are many different types of yoga now. For example, Anusara yoga is a modern version of Iyengar. They are both gentle forms, and good for beginners. Ashtanga is a more vigorous style of yoga, as is hot yoga. Do some research to find the right one for you.

This introduction to vinyasa flow is from the NHS website.

Other alternatives may also include tai chi or qigong. These are ancient Eastern practices that use slow movement, breathing and meditation to help move the body’s energy or ‘chi’ (qi) from being ‘stuck’ to flowing freely. There are many similarities between the two forms but tai chi has its origins in martial arts, whilst gigong is much more a system of wellness. You can find out more about the physiology of tai chi and qigong here. Here is the NHS guide to tai chi and here is a five minute video about the use of qigong to quieten the mind and body. Some sort of regular physical practice that connects mind and body in this way enables moods to stabilise over time, leading to a greater overall sense of well-being.

Meditation

Research shows that a regular meditation practice will reduces stress levels, help you manage feelings of anxiety, increase your self-awareness and sense of happiness and well-being. It may also help you sleep better and help regulate your blood pressure.

Most people have tried some sort of meditation. If you have and haven’t found it useful, it is likely that you haven’t tried the right one. There are so many choices out there: guided or unguided; calming v’s insight meditation, open v’s focussing, those from a mindfulness ethos v’s a more spiritual tradition. It is worth taking time to find the right one for you. This article by Giovanni provides a great introduction.

Headspace provides some invaluable information on its website and also has free support during the covid-19 crisis, including short meditations on feeling overwhelmed, relieving stress and walking at home.

Vishen Lakhiani’s six phase meditation is a powerful technique. You can learn it in easy steps, and also gain an insight into why every phase enhances important aspects of your health and well-being by doing the free Mindvalley course.  

You can also access Farrukh’s meditation on self-care here.

Digging deeper: powerful strategies to help manage distress and feelings of overwhelm

If you are struggling emotionally, perhaps feeling distressed, or overwhelmed, the last thing you might want to do may be to meditate! The following strategies are super-helpful in bringing your nervous system right down quickly, or that you can regain some composure and get through the next part of the day.

Talking

You may not feel able to phone a friend. Often it is when we need to reach out to loved ones the most, that we can find it the hardest to do so. You might find it easier to offload to someone who doesn’t know you. The Mind website might be a helpful starting point, offering a range of signposting and the Samaritans continues to be there, offering an emergency helpline. But there are also now specialist online counselling services for young people – including Kooth.comThe Mix. Know that you are not alone.

Write it out of your system

Keeping a journal and writing regularly has been shown to contribute to greater overall health and well-being. But not everyone has the time for regular journaling. This is where it gets interesting – however bad you are feeling, by vomiting out your feelings onto the page, you are literally getting them out of your system.

You can just write out what you’re feeling and then shred or destroy the pages, symbolically letting go of distressing feelings, but also ensuring your privacy. If you like to do things online, then you can access some great journaling apps.  

Morning pages’ (a term coined by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way) are three full pages of longhand writing, written as a stream-of-consciousness. Whatever pops into your head goes on the page.  Try it, you will feel great afterwards!  Cameron recommends doing it every single day. Read  Oliver Burkeman’s informative article about how doing this transformed his life.

Other techniques include asking yourself three questions: what, so what and now what?

Begin with ‘what?’ What’s bothering you? Pour out onto the page everything that is bugging you about this thing). Once you’ve run out of things to say, you can move on to the next step: So what? Identify what the deeper significance is to you of this event/ issue/ problem. Why are you so affected? Often doing this step can help us to identify the underlying significance or meaning of a seemingly minor incident and to gain some insight into why it’s bothering us so much.  Once you have done this, you can move on to the third what: Now what? This is where you take stock of your newly acquired insight and make decisions about the way forward.

As with all these techniques – be kind and gentle with yourself. Don’t push for change before your ready. Just acknowledging how you feel may be enough for today. Give yourself permission to commit to change when you’re feeling stronger.

Tapping and visualising for emotional regulation

If you’ve tried some of the above, or they just don’t grab you, do not worry – as there are still a  couple more powerful techniques that can help you bring the balance back into your emotional wellbeing.

EFT: Emotional Freedom Technique

The first of these is EFT – or Emotional Freedom Technique. This involves a series of light taps on specific parts of your body, to help the system to release or discharge energy blockages. Research shows that it can be a powerful way for improving several markers for health and is especially helpful for releasing anxiety, distress and a sense of overwhelm.

Jessica Ortner’s five minute video is a great introduction. It’s best to do three rounds in a go. You will feel qualitatively different from a few moments before. This article for Marie Claire with help you, if you need written guidelines.

Autogenic Training

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), or autogenic training (AT), was created by it Johannes Schultz, a German doctor, way back in 1932. Today, AT is a powerful techniques that teaches you to self-produce feelings of warmth and heaviness throughout your body, thereby helping you to experience profound states of physical relaxation, bodily health, and mental peace.

Try this video on PMR  or this one for AT. If you’d prefer to follow written instructions and work through an exercise at your own pace, you can download some here.

As with all of the suggestions here, if you find that feelings of distress and overwhelm continue for a prolonged period of time, and are not easing, please ensure you seek out professional assistance.

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