Self-Regulation: Managing Emotions
Pandemic, politics, and 2020 in general, can trigger anxiety, despair, and irritability. In Lockdown 2, I am trying to just accept them.
I hate the word trigger. A word loaded with many meanings but here, I suppose, it gets to the root of what we’re investigating, so I’ll persevere 😊
In part one, we saw how awareness is so important for Emotional Intelligence. Self-regulation links awareness and accountability. With it, we can identify our shortcomings and take responsibility. This year, you might find yourself triggered more than usual. This triggering response is the survival part of your brain. For many, understanding what their triggers are tricky.
Knowing the emotions that underlie certain reactive behaviours guides us to a deeper understanding of ourselves.
How to identify your triggers
At any point today have you noticed a negative emotion? A strong sensation in your body, the tension in your neck? Now that you have recalled a strong, negative emotion, investigate it. Ask yourself, when did I feel like this before? When did your mood change? Did you feel upset or irritable after watching the news or talking to someone? Did you burn your toast and that caused you to feel a strong emotion?
When you find this moment where your mood switched, investigate further, where did you feel this in your body? This takes practice, so be gentle with yourself as you investigate. This is the start of coming out of your thinking mind and into the experience of how your body feels. It is in the body that you can store emotional triggers.
Identifying physical reactions can teach you about your triggers. At the start, this is a reflective practice. You are looking back at your reactions. With practice, awareness deepens. The gap between looking back at your behaviour and pre-empting your behaviour, narrows.
Kindness and Compassion
What does it mean to be kind and compassionate? At a meditation retreat, I learned a practice where the instructor repeated over and over “Safe and protected, in the midst of all this”. This may sound too simple to work but if a mantra becomes a practice, it can be effective.
The word Mantra is derived from two Sanskrit words Manas (mind) and Tra (tool). Next time you feel triggered by strong emotion, offer yourself some kindness and compassion in the form of a Loving Kindness meditation: May I be safe, may I be happy, may I release this control this thought has over me.
If offering yourself kind words are new and radical to you, start small. Find a mantra and offer it to yourself for three minutes. Notice the negative feelings that arise, let them be there, and continue to offer kind words to yourself. The feelings, like the thoughts, will subside.
Accepting that we are living in an anxious time and that we feel anxious does not dismiss the validity of our feelings. There is plenty to be worried about right now. But it does mean that we can find solutions and to not see our individual world through a lens of anxious feelings. Instead, we are training our brains to find the calm and to engage the rational part of what this is right now. We save our energy to focus on important issues – like day-to-day living, rather than getting caught in a thought loop that is spinning endlessly.
When we invite kindness in, we create a space for ourselves and we reduce these emotional triggers. This happens because as we become more aware of them, they lose their stronghold of power. Practicing mindfulness creates this awareness that emerges through paying particular purposeful attention. Mindfulness is a vessel for us and lets us discover the patterns of thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that often characterise reactivity.
Kindness towards yourself and others gives you emotional safety. Awareness gives you emotional presence. In mindfulness, we access inner power through awareness. And as with any habit, the more you practice noticing your triggers and offering yourself kindness, not chastisement, many situations that once caused you to react won’t be that strong anymore. You’ll notice one day that you don’t care as much about the drama as you did before.
This mechanism, being able to sit and watch my thoughts and feelings has helped me this year. My relationship with myself is steady. Whenever anxiety, despair, and irritability come to visit, I invite them in. I sit with them, they are allowed to stay as I know they are only passing through.
“To transform the world, we must begin with ourselves; and what is important in beginning with ourselves is the intention. The intention must be to understand ourselves and not to leave it to others to transform themselves or to bring about a modified change through revolution, either of the left or of the right. It is important to understand that this is our responsibility, yours and mine”
This is part two of a five-part series exploring Emotional Intelligence.
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