You have much more control over your emotional state than you probably realize. What and how you think can determine what and how you feel. What and how you feel colors what and how you think. The techniques described in this article help manage this complex equation.
You can use some of the techniques by yourself, but you may need help with others. Since many involve relaxation, they tend to lower your metabolic rate and general level of physiological energy. It is unlikely that these methods will interact with prescription medications you are taking, but if in doubt, check with your physician before using them.
The first step is to identify exactly what it is you're feeling and label it. Emotions often defy description, but building a better emotional vocabulary makes finding a solution easier. Write down as many adjectives as you can for anger, anxiety, and depression. Use a thesaurus, get words from friends, family, and coworkers. Sort your words in order of intensity. Learn to examine your emotional state and attach a label that describes it with some degree of accuracy.
Next, experiment with thoughts that increase the intensity of the emotion you're feeling. Then try thoughts that will reduce that intensity. Rate the intensity level of your emotions on a scale from 1 (the lowest level of intensity) to 10 (the highest level of intensity). Learn to raise and lower your level with your thoughts.
Learning to release emotions is the third step. This can happen in a number of ways, such as acting them out, talking them out, or thinking them out. Shouting, crying, or being fearful takes the edge off your feelings, allowing you to think more clearly. You can talk about how you feel with a friend, family member, or counselor. Sometimes, images and thoughts can release you from emotions. And remember that exercise is one of the best ways to release stress. A word of caution, we are not advocating expressing feelings irresponsibly just to get them off your chest nor are we suggesting you wallow in your feelings indefinitely. The intensification and expression of feelings is one aspect of learning to manage strong emotions and getting them under control. Here are a few rules to remember about releasing feelings:
• Mean what you say, say what you mean, but don't be mean when you say it.
• Don't break things that don't belong to you.
• Don't hit or become abusive towards others.
• Don't hurt yourself (physically or with drugs, food, etc.).
• Use a little judgment when in public.
Self-monitoring Relate your thoughts to your emotions by keeping track of what you're thinking about when you feel them. Try to make connections between your thoughts and your emotional symptoms. Sort out your irrational thoughts and counter them with rational ones. Irrational thoughts can lead to irrational behavior.
Taking Quiet Time for Yourself Set aside quiet time every day. Do it regularly, don't wait until you're anxious, angry, or depressed. It doesn't have to be a lot of time. Even twenty to thirty minutes is enough time. Pick a place where you can be by yourself and undisturbed.
Deep Breathing There are few self-regulatory exercises as calming as deep breathing. Deep breathing improves the efficiency of your cardiovascular system in delivering oxygen to your body and brain. Try the "one, two, three" deep breathing exercise we teach our clients: In a seated position, place your elbows on your knees, lean forward, and place your chin in your hands. Now, breathing through your nose, take three deep breaths and hold each one for a slow count of three. Lean back and continue to breathe slowly and deeply through your nose as you let yourself calm down and relax.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) It's impossible to be relaxed and emotionally tense at the same time. They are mutually exclusive. PMR is a powerful technique not only for releasing muscle tension and becoming aware of your body, but also for releasing emotional tension. It involves tensing and relaxing muscles in a progressive series and takes about twenty minutes to complete. It is often taught as an introduction to biofeedback and self-hypnosis autogenic imagery.
Visual Imagery As you relax using PMR, conjure up images of emotional release. Try different images until you find one that appeals to you. Often feelings cannot be put into words. Instead they come out through our imaginations. We fantasize scenes that never happen, perhaps what we wish we could have said to the boss or what we should have done to forestall some tragedy. Sometimes the visual image is the memory of a real event that keeps recurring as a "flashback".
If the above techniques don't work, your anxiety, anger, or depression may be rooted in a deep-seated problem. You might benefit from professional help. A specialist in behavioral medicine is generally a psychologist or physician trained in the diagnosis and behavioral treatment of stress-related emotional and physical symptoms and complaints. Many hospitals and medical centers have departments of behavioral medicine or can refer you to a practitioner in your neighborhood.
Psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers are professional psychotherapists. They may come from different schools of thought ranging from Freudian psychoanalysis to cognitive behavioral therapy. Regardless of the approach, it has to feel right to you and you have to trust your therapist. If the approach doesn't make sense, or you don't feel comfortable with the therapist, try another one. You can get referrals from your, physician, state professional organizations, mental health centers or COPE.
Want to get started but not sure which of these options makes sense for you? In the course of a few sessions, the EAP professional will help you identify and/or clarify the issue, answer questions you have about the process of finding a longer-term professional, and then help you locate someone to work with.