The term emotional regulation refers to the process of recognizing and controlling your feelings or reactions to feelings. Emotions aren’t inherently good or bad, but how you respond to your emotions is crucial in keeping you on track with your recovery goals.
It’s Been an Emotionally Difficult Year
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has created a great deal of stress and uncertainty for nearly everyone. Civil unrest and natural disasters scattered throughout the US have only added to the collective tension.
If you’re having trouble keeping your emotions in check, you’re not alone. Nearly everyone has reported struggling with mental health in 2020, and you’re facing additional challenges as a person in recovery. Be proactive about your treatment program, but be patient with yourself. You’ve got a lot on your plate right now, and it’s OK if you feel like you’re struggling more than usual.
The Connection Between Thoughts, Emotions, and Behavior
While you can’t control your feelings, you can control how you respond. Cognitive behavioral therapy explains the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behavior as a “cognitive triangle” where each aspect is connected.
- Thoughts create feelings.
- Feelings create behaviors.
- Behaviors create thoughts.
Understanding this connection can help you avoid making poor decisions that are driven by emotion. For example, if you’re feeling anxious after watching the news, it would be better to take a digital detox and step away from the source of your anxiety than to let your anxious thoughts spark a craving that can be hard to ignore.
How to Keep Your Emotions in Check
Although we start to learn about emotional regulation as young children by watching the adults in our lives react to different situations, we all have the power to continue to improve our ability to manage our emotions. When you’re feeling angry, anxious, overwhelmed, stressed, or upset, you can:
- Walk away. If you’re angry and about to say something you’ll later regret, sometimes the best course of action is to simply walk away. Disengaging from the conflict will give you a chance to calm down and think clearly.
- Distract yourself. Never underestimate the power of distraction to help you keep your emotions in control. For example, watching a funny video or listening to a favorite song can be a great way to keep yourself from overreacting to a minor problem.
- Get moving. Exercise releases endorphins, which are the body’s “feel-good” chemicals. Exercise can also help distract you from your problems.
- Talk to someone you trust. This could be a sponsor, your counselor, or a good friend who will listen without judgment. Talking about what’s bothering you can help you feel less alone during this difficult time.
- Meditate. Mindfulness meditation has a wonderfully calming effect during times of stress. If you don’t have time for a full practice, try taking a few deep breaths instead while you repeat your favorite positive affirmations.
- Write in your journal. Your journal provides a safe and private space to explore your emotions in greater detail. Over time, your journal can also serve as a record that will help you better understand what triggers specific emotional responses.
- Break out a sketchbook. If you have a hard time expressing yourself in words, drawing or painting can be a new way to process your emotions. No artistic talent or formal training is necessary to benefit from creative self-expression.
- Pray. Let your faith be a source of comfort. Prayer has regularly been shown to ease feelings of depression and anxiety. In a pandemic where so much seems out of your control, faith in a higher power can be particularly comforting.
Practicing Radical Acceptance
The concept of radical acceptance is associated with dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and of particular relevance because of the uncertainty associated with COVID-19’s effects across the United States.
Radical acceptance encourages you to accept life as it is and acknowledge that some aspects of your situation are beyond your control. It encourages you to look at your situation without judgment and practice mindfulness by living in the present moment.
Radical acceptance is a useful concept because it stresses you don’t need to like reality to accept it, and that ruminating on what is beyond your control only adds to your suffering. Directing your thoughts to what you can do to make each day a bit better helps you find the emotional balance you crave.
We’re Here for You
As an essential business, Waypoint Recovery Center‘s South Carolina drug and alcohol addiction treatment program will be open and continue to accept new clients regardless of what restrictions are put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. We are taking all CDC-recommended safety precautions so we can continue to provide the evidence-based care you need to move forward with your recovery.