Monday, March 30, 2020

Emotional Regulation: What The Body Can Tell Us About Our Feelings

Photo Credit: Feelings Chart by Olivia Losack

Emotions are running high for all of us amid all the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Up is down, down is up, and everything about our lives is different. All that change means many emotions are popping up. Now is a good time to step back, take a breath, and identify the emotions we are experiencing. Our bodies, minds, and behaviors are filled with information about what we are feeling.  

Once we tune into 
how our body feels, 
what are thoughts are, 
and what we are doing, 
we can harvest information about our emotions. 

In this blog, we will focus on the way your body experiences emotions. 

In subsequent blog posts, I will focus on how feelings effect thoughts and behaviors. 

Parents, caregivers, family, and friends share this information with your children. It is critical that you 1) use these skills to stay calm, and 2) model these skills in front of your children. This will benefit both you and everyone around you. 

But where do I begin? 

Stop, Walk, and Tune In To Your Body

First, stop whatever you are doing. 
Step away, go into another room, so you can grab some time alone with no distractions. 

Take some nice deep breaths: in through the nose, and out through the mouth. 

Be sure to breathe into diaphragm or stomach, not the chest. The chest should be the last part of the body to rise when breathing properly. 

Now, focus on each part of your body, starting at the top of your head, moving down. Spend some time on each body part, noticing tightness or a holding of tension in different parts of the body. This is called a body scan. Listen to this brief, 5-minute meditation that will take you through each body part.


What Did Your Body Tell You? 
Where do you feel tension? 
Do you feel a tightness in your neck? back? stomach? head? 

Make a note of it on a piece of paper, or draw a stick figure and circle the parts of the body where your feel tension or unease. Your body is providing vital information about your feelings. 

By way of example, when I am stressed, anxious, or scared my neck, upper back, and stomach all get tight. My breathing becomes shallow and short. When I am sad, my throat tightens and the area around my heart hurts. How is your body? If there are areas of tension they could signal stress, anxiety, or sadness. 

Emotional Decoder 
Now look at the diagram below.  It kind of looks like the pain chart that the doctors use in the hospital. On a scale from 1-5, 1 being content, and 5 being scared or angry.  How are you feeling? Look at the images and find the one that matches what you are feeling best. (The descriptions can be helpful to put your feelings into words.)  

Photo Credit:

I Know What I Am Feeling, Now What? 

Did you identify an emotion? Cool! What do I do? 

If you are happy, or feel okay you can keep doing what you are doing. However, you might want to keep checking in with yourself once or twice an hour to see if things change. Sometimes setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to check in helps. As the day moves along, some person, place, or thing might bother you, throwing you into a sad or anxious state. 

If you are feeling sad, or angry, there are actions you can take to move yourself into "ok," "happy," or "confident." 
Take some more of those deep breathes. 
Deep, long, slow breathes will help calm your body down. 
Then find an activity that you find soothing. 
You could color, read, sew, listen to music, watch TV, write, exercise, or search for funny memes. 
You might not like any of these ideas, and that is okay. 
Check out this website for more ideas. 
Print it out and circle the ones that sound appealing to you. 

Practice Will Reveal Patterns
Your body reacts to our emotions. Sometimes these changes are subtle, unrecognizable even, but with regular practice, you will discover patterns. 

Keep a record of these experiences by writing about them in a notebook, or by drawing a quick stick-figure, circling the areas that get tense, tight, or otherwise feel strange. 

Finally, tie those physical sensations to what you are feeling, and address them with slow, deep breaths, and pleasant activities. Keep doing this each day, and you will become better at recognizing and managing your emotions. 

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