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How emotional regulation can make you happier everyday – the therapist’s guide


Everyone is talking about emotional regulation as the new therapy. It’s basically about taking back control by learning to name your emotions. Here’s a guide

Sometimes our emotions can make us feel overwhelmed, as if we have no control. That can often lead us to react in ways that are unhelpful, such as comfort eating, losing our tempers or feeling overwhelmed and frozen, unable to do anything at all.

But you can learn to regulate your emotions so you react less to the emotional highs and lows you feel as the normal ups and downs of daily life unfold. Imagine then, a world where you weren’t at the mercy of your emotions but instead, could manage them better until you were in a place where you could respond in a measured and controlled way – rather than react impulsively in a way you might regret later?

That’s exactly what Andrea Harrn’s book, The Mood Book: Identify and Explore 100 Moods and Emotions can help with. In it, she identifies over 100 emotions to help you explore how you are feeling and positive ways you can move forward.

A recent study shows 1 in 3 UK workers hide their true emotions at work. This is shocking because suppressing your emotions is like putting a plaster on a broken pipe. The dripping may stop for a while, but the pipe is bound to burst. And when it does you will need more than a couple plasters.

We fear what is outside our control or comfort zone

What is the point of naming your emotions?

Emerging evidence shows that putting your feelings into words can be a form of implicit emotional regulation.

The left side of the brain performs tasks which involves logic, it springs into action when we have a problem that needs to be solved. But when our emotions become too overwhelming the amygdala ( the area of the brain which controls emotions) may decide that the situation is dangerous, even if it is not be that serious.

This then triggers the fight or flight response which is a reaction we have in response to a threat or danger to survive. Your brain ‘flips its lid’ as Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, calls it and all logical reasoning goes out the window.

When you’re distressed naming your emotions causes the left-hand side of your brain to send soothing neurotransmitters to the body, calming you down.

After all, we are the ones that are in control of our emotions, not the other way around. Here are six ways to name your emotions and stop your pipes from bursting:

1# Break down your anger

Do you find yourself acting in an aggressive way? Are you known for seeking revenge or giving people the silent treatment? Do you yell more than you talk?

‘Anger can lead to self-deprecation and a spiral of negative thinking,’ says Andrea Harrn, a psychotherapist and expert in behavioural cognitive therapy (CBT). Take a minute to figure out whether your anger is a primary emotion you feel in response to a situation, or a secondary emotion, an emotional reaction to your other feelings.

Name your emotions to stop you from lashing out at others.

Harrn says it’s important to, ‘Communicate thoughts and feelings to those involved,’ rather than letting it manifest and grow.

If you find that your anger gets you in trouble don’t worry you are not alone. But, ‘if you often feel angry but it is not specific, you may be in a loop of negative thinking,’ Harrn explains. Stop the cycle and break out of this habit by listing things that you may find annoy you, ask yourself ‘what are your thoughts about these issues?’ Don’t let your anger take over your control. Remember, forgiveness is for you and not the other person.

2# Take charge of fear

Have you gone out of your way to avoid situations or activities? Do you find yourself feeling stressed and anxious?

Fear is a response that we have when we may feel threatened or in danger. ‘It is a natural inbuilt response and reaction: the survival instinct” says Harrn. But ‘fear can be rational and irrational.’ ‘We fear what is outside our control or comfort zone,’ says Harrn. ‘This can result in worst case scenario thinking and lead us to avoid challenges that could benefit us in the future’.

When wanting to overcome your fear, take charge of your thinking by recognising when you are heading into a spiral of negativity,’ advises Harrn.  Dealing with your fear can be frustrating when there is no clear or obvious danger involved but there is no need to suffer alone when there is plenty of professional support out there, she says.

‘Hypnotherapy can be a powerful way to combat phobias and CBT can help to programme your mind  to allow your thoughts to work with you,’ says Harrn.

3# Overcome your anxiety

Are you easily irritable? Do you find yourself worrying about the future? Have you seen a change in your appetite?

Anxiety is normal and an expected part of our life, like having butterflies when you’re nervous. ‘It becomes a problem when anxiety manifests into symptoms that disrupt normal everyday functions,’ says Harrn. Anxiety itself can be triggered by internal worries or external stimuli but it’s actually a ‘learned behaviour,’  Andrea asserts. Good news then, is that means you can unlearn it.

Taking a moment for yourself may be all you need.

CBT can also help here, by teaching you to understand how your negative thoughts and beliefs affect your anxiety and help you to create more beneficial thoughts.

Meanwhile try to ‘distract yourself’ when in an anxious situation, she advises.  Get your body moving and dance like nobody’s watching,’ she suggests.  ‘Start a bullet journal,’ says Andrea.  A notebook organisation system to help you schedule appointments, to do lists and brainstorm anything from movies to finances.

Make sure you also list what you’re grateful for in your journal. A study by UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Centre has found that regular practise of gratitude can actually change the molecular structure of our brain by boosting happy hormones, dopamine and serotonin.

4# Breathe out your stress

Are you feeling tense? Do you find yourself often confused or disengaged? Do you feel powerless?

With today’s fast-paced society and the pressure to be consistently productive, you may find yourself working into the late hours of the night to finish a deadline. It’s no wonder why 74% of the UK feel that they are unable to cope with their demands, it’s exhausting.

‘Stress affects us mentally (racing thoughts, constant worry, difficulty), physically (headaches muscle pains or tension) and emotionally (feeling anxious, restless, overwhelmed),’ Harrn says. That can make it hard to think rationally and find a way to move forward.

Past experiences may impact how you react to situations but understanding the trigger for any stress is the first step to overcoming it,’ says Harrn.  ‘Try to take a step back from your busy schedule to slow down and take one thing at a time.’ Invest in some self-care, de-stress with yoga, share your problems with someone you trust’ or listen to a relaxation track, Andrea advises. Stress is not forever and eventually it will pass.

5# Find the light switch on depression

Depression affects many people in different ways – for some it can feel like someone’s pulled a switch. You ‘re in the dark and it’s hard to see a way out.

Common symptoms of depression include lack of energy, inability to concentrate, insomnia and ‘feelings of worthlessness.

You may find that things that you once enjoyed now bring you no pleasure, you may find yourself not eating or talking to others and you withdraw from life.

You may feel like you are in a constant cycle of impending doom, but remember that nothing is forever.

Depression affects 1 in every 4 people in the UK.

Harrn explains that you shouldn’t dismiss your emotions or try to ‘fight your depression.’ Name how you feel to help distance yourself and acknowledge your emotions.

‘Take some time to think about small steps you can take to beat it’, she advises. ‘Remember that many people may suffer from depression, it’s not a sign of weakness but a sign that you need deep rest. There are people who love and care for you so talk to them and don’t be afraid to ask for help.’

6# Trust yourself to overcome self-doubt

Do you find yourself having negative beliefs about yourself? Do you trust yourself to make decisions? Would you talk to others the same way you talk to yourself?

‘Self-doubt can start to creep into the mind from a very young age,’ says Harr.  ‘When discipline is too harsh, critical or unloving, the child blames themselves and feels unworthy, creating negative core beliefs,’ Harrn explains.

‘When they become adults these negative opinions about skills, body image and self-worth can manifest and spin out of control. Then, when a ‘negative event’ confirms ‘the core belief that you’re not good enough, it can feed into your self-doubt and lead you further down the rabbit hole’.

Break out of your negative thoughts by shattering your limited view of what you can do and what you can achieve. Harrn advises.

‘Try not to let rejection in. say no to put-downs and yes to puff-ups. Repeating positive affirmations about yourself can allow you to overcome your self-doubt and negative thoughts.  Simply choose your phrase and repeat them to yourself, ‘I am Enough, I am Valued, I am Strong.’

There is strong evidence behind self-affirmations as it allows individuals to reflect on their core values. A study showed that participants who practiced self-affirmations had an increase in neural pathway activity in key regions of the brain’s self-processing and valuation systems.

Know that you are good enough.

Image result for the mood book

Look at Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions to gain a wider range emotions and how they can be interlinked.

So, take a few seconds out of your day and ask yourself how are you doing?

Andrea Harrn is a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, intuitive healer, and expert in CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) and mindfulness. The Mood Book: Identify and Explore 100 Moods and Emotions [publisher Eddison Books] is available.

Harrn’s new book, The Mood Diary: a 4-Week Plan to Track your Emotions and Lifestyle, focuses on journaling to allow you to monitor and keep track of your emotions, ultimately making changes to lead a happier, healthier life, is out now.


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