8 Healthy Coping Skills for Strong Emotions

Emotions can be overwhelming. They can make us feel crazy and out of control. They can ruin our relationships and cause tremendous havoc.

There is a better way. Emotions don’t have to rule our world. We can learn to control our emotional state. It begins with understanding what emotions are, where they originate, how they affect us, and healthy ways we can manage them.

What are emotions?

Emotions are not our enemy. They are assets to tap into, nurture and put to good use. Emotions are physiological, cognitive, and behavioral responses to a personally significant event (http://www.apa.org/research/action/glossary.aspx). They are complex patterns of change that protect us from danger, ignite feelings of love, and indicate internal calm. Emotions provide valuable information. All we have to do is stop, notice and listen.

How do emotions function?

Emotions affect our body, mind and behavior. Emotions influence how we communicate and influence others. Emotions manage and motivate action. Emotions bring life and vigor to our thoughts and actions (http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/emotion_function.html).

Emotions Assess for Safety

When danger arises, we automatically react with flight, fight or freeze. We flee when we see an exit or an escape. We fight when trapped. We freeze when we have exhausted our efforts to fight or flee

Emotions Influence Memory

Emotions are attached to memories. When current events trigger unresolved past reminiscences, feelings are compiled.   We not only respond to the current event but also the past.

This behavior is typical. Our reaction is signaling that we have past trauma or abuse. We are responding to all the thoughts and feelings aroused by our history ignited in the present.

Knowing this helps to understand our current emotional intensity. With understanding, compassion is possible. We can soothe our thoughts and feelings. Self-compassion is number one for coping with intense emotions.

8 Coping-Skills to Manage Emotions

  1. Self-CompassiHelp to Manage Emotionson

Self-compassion is a matter of relating. When we can relate, understand, and feel the difficulties of another, we can translate the same experience to our self.

Compassion is not about pity. It is a desire to help from a place of kindness and understanding. It is the ability to recognize without judgment or ridicule when others fail, make mistakes, and show imperfections. Compassion recognizes that we all have faults, make slip-ups, and possess limitations. It is part of our shared human experience.

Self-compassion is taking the same attitude toward others and giving it to our self. Just as we listen and empathize with our friend who lost their job, relative who had surgery or stranger homeless on the street, we can transfer those same nurturing thoughts and feelings to our self.

  1. Nurture

We can get out of our head by nurturing and socializing with others. Problems are distracted when we tend to children, friends, and relatives. By occupying our minds and lending a hand to someone else, we help ourselves. What could be more rewarding than that?

Developing and maintaining social alliances lowers stress. When we interact with those we care for, Oxytocin is released.   Oxytocin is a hormone that naturally calms.

Sharing our feelings with those we trust can help to normalize and validate emotions while helping to get out of isolation and see other perspectives.

  1. Notice the Breath

Becoming aware of our breathing helps assess our feelings. For example, when we breathe shallowly we may be feeling anxious. When we are breathing deeply into our abdomen, we may notice we are feeling calm or restful. Observing our breath at the moment gives us indicators as to how we feel.

We have control to deepen and slow down our breath. Paying attention to the location of our full inhale and exhale gives the opportunity to change our state of mind. We can choose to take a deep breath and breathe in our abdomen. Abdomen breathing calms a racing pulse and scattered mind.

Observing the muscles especially around the shoulders, neck and jaw may also give us a gauge into how we are feeling. If our muscles feel tight, we can choose to move around, stretch, and relax any tight areas.

Using our imagination to visualize the tension flowing out with our breath as we relax any tense muscles can have a tremendous effect on our mood.

  1. Visualize

Sometimes when we are flooded with feelings, it can be difficult to manage. It may be helpful to think of a calming visualization when we are calm. Thus, we have a tool from our toolbox we can resort to in times of stress.

Here is an idea, try putting emotional pain in a treasure chest. We can bury our treasure chest of emotions for the time being and come back to them when we have time to give them our full attention. It is important to make time for our feelings. They need acknowledgment, validation, and nurture just like a crying child. By tending to our emotions, we are caring for our self.

  1. Take a Break 

Sometimes we just need to pause for a moment. There are times when it is not appropriate or convenient to express intense emotions. During these incidences, it is best to excuse our self for a few minutes.

Try saying, “I need a moment to get my thoughts together. I’ll be back in ten minutes.” Make sure to return at the time indicated. Following through with your word ensures trust and reliability.

Taking the time to calm down and compose our thoughts and feelings, gives us a moment to think clearly.   We can then determine the best approach for expressing our self and finding solutions that are agreeable to all.

  1. Write

Writing can be extremely useful. Studies showed that survivors of traumatic events lowered their distress levels significantly by journaling.

Transforming thoughts and feelings ruminating in our mind to paper helps to stop the spiral. When we are in the thick of things, our thoughts manifest and continue in a downward twist. Externalizing them in a journal gives us the opportunity to clarify what we are thinking and feeling. It is valuable to practice self-compassion and validation when writing.

Closing our journal can also be symbolic. We are physically putting away our distressing feelings and letting go from the upsetting event.

  1. Speak Up

It is important to speak up when an issue is bothersome. Otherwise, we build up resentment. Built up anger causes us to lash out and nitpick at the tiniest of incidences.

It is most effective to think about the problem and clarify our position. It is at times like these to step away, breathe, and formulate a plan of action. We are then able to voice our concerns with an even tone and clarity.

Changes in our relationships are a process. It takes time to adjust to a new way of thinking and behaving. Impulsive confrontation never results in positive outcomes. With practice, talking about what bothers us becomes easy.

  1. Feelings are Temporary 

Emotions are like waves in the ocean. They are always moving and changing. It may be helpful to remind our self that we have not always felt this way. This too shall pass.

Think of previous times when intense emotions were felt. Remember that they eventually faded. Knowing they are temporary can help to begin the process to feeling better.

It may be useful to use a visualization of the ocean. Associate each wave with an emotion. Watch how each emotion moves through the continuum of the water, builds with momentum, crashes on the shore, and then washes away into the sand and current.

Taking time to acknowledge what we are feeling and understanding intense emotions are temporary can help calm a turbulent sea.

Managing our emotions becomes easy with practice. If we recognize the full range of feelings from fear, anger, sadness, and depression to happiness, inspiration, peace, and love, we can use them to protect our self and balance negative experiences. We can make the most of our emotions by opening our mind and utilizing healthy ways to manage them. Choosing what techniques work best for us in the situation is optimal.   We can learn to stabilize an out of control state of mind.

Exercise for Thought

Getting to know our emotions helps us to decide how we want to act rather than act. We can learn more about our feelings by keeping an emotion diary. Choose without judgment the strongest, longest lasting or most difficult or painful feelings. Describe the prompting event and the response in body, mind, and behavior.

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5 Ways to Improve Your Conscious Listening

active-listening_pinkTaken from Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better | Video on TED.com

Conscious listening is understanding sound.   It increases empathy, connection, consciousness, and peace.  Listening externally improves relationships.  Listening internally increases awareness of inner wisdom and self-sabotaging talk.  Read on to learn ways to uplift your capacity to hear with clarity.

1. Sit silently for three minutes a day to recalibrate and hear the silence again.

2. Listen and count the many channels of sound (i.e. count birds chirping or the different depths of sound listening to the flow of a creek, or the clasps of the coffee machine being worked at Starbucks as you stand in line).

3. Savor mundane sounds.  Turn the sound of a washing machine into a waltz.

4. Listening positions allow room to navigate, see different perspectives, and find solutions.

  • Active | passive
  • Reductive | expansive
  • Critical |empathetic

5. R A S A is an acronym to simplify the rules to listen better.

  • R = Receive, pay attention
  • A = Appreciation, thank for sharing
  • S = Summarize, use so… frequently
  • A – Ask, pose many questions

Listening is a rare art form that takes practice, dedication, and consciousness.  Notice how slowing down to listen to others and yourself can help transform your relationships, decision-making, and peacefulness.

Optimize Brain Function and Create Happiness

be_happyHappiness is a choice.  It can be a difficult decision to make with all the negativity in the world.  It doesn’t have to feel like such a daunting option when focusing on small changes.  Small changes create big leaps forward.  Over time a greater sense of happiness is enlivened.  If you want to optimize your brain health and create greater happiness here are some simple ideas.  You don’t have to do them all to achieve results. Focus on just a few and see how you can make small changes ripple outward.

1. Meditate.
2. Journal.
3. Write 3 things you are grateful for daily.
4. Exercise.
5. Create random acts of kindness.
6. Drink at least 6 to 8 oz of water daily to stay well hydrated.
7. Eat healthfully with lean proteins, 5 to 7 cups of fruits and vegetables and whole grains daily.
8. The suggested nutritional supplements tyrosine (500 – 1500 milligrams) 2 to 3x daily; OPC (oligomeric procyandius) grape seed or pine bark (1 milligram per pound of body weight); and gingko biloba (60 – 120 milligrams 2x daily) help increase dopamine and blood flow to the brain and may help with energy, focus, and impulse control. Before taking any supplements, first consult with your doctor.
9. Think positive, healthy thoughts and rid yourself of automatic negative thoughts.
10. Surround yourself with positive, uplifting people.
11. Spend time with people you want to be like. You are more likely to become like them.
12. Talk to others in loving, kind, helpful ways.
13. Fill your environment with comforting smells such as lavender, rose, or cinnamon.
14. Breathe into your diaphragm.
15. Effectively confront and deal with situations involving conflict.
16. Develop clear goals for your life (relationships, work, money, and self) and reaffirm them every day.
17. Focus on the positive things in your life more than the negative.
18. Establish eye contact with and smile frequently at others.
19. Notice when you are stuck, distract yourself, and come back to the problem later.
20. Write out options when you are feeling stuck.
21. Seek out the counsel of others when feeling stuck. Often just talking about feeling stuck will open new options.
22. Enhance your memory skills by learning something new every day.
23. Sing, hum and move in rhythm often.
24. Touch others frequently in a loving and appropriate manner.
25. Power pose daily for 2 minutes.

Life brings many challenges.  There are many uncontrollable ups and downs.  Regardless of what life may throw us, we can still choose to be happy.  Adding just one or more habit from this list ensures you are controlling what you can.  You are making certain your brain performance and personal well-being are at their best.

The Secret of Love (Spoiler Alert)

journey by Deepak Chopra, MD

The Internet has taken up the slack from print media by offering tips on love and relationships, which pop up on home pages, in tweets and in news teasers many times a day. If the secret to lasting romance could be shared like a recipe for cinnamon buns, our problems would be over. But love isn’t a fact, formula, or definable in words.

Love is a process, perhaps the most mysterious one in human psychology. No one knows what creates love as a powerful bond that is so full of meaning. If romance was only a heady brew of hormones, genetic inheritance and sex drive, all we’d need is better data to explain it. But love is transporting. It carries us beyond our everyday selves and makes reality shine with an inner light. The reverse can also happen. We crash to earth when the wear and tear of relationships makes love fade.

The process of love is kept alive by evolving and not getting stuck. Infatuation is an early stage of the process. You bond with another person as if by alchemy, but in time the ego returns with the claims of “I, me, and mine.” At that point love must change. Two people must negotiate how much to share, how much to surrender and how much to stand their ground. It would be tragic if romance faded into everyday familiarity, but it doesn’t have to.

Beyond the stage of two egos negotiating for their own interests, there is deepening love. It doesn’t try to turn the present into the past. A married couple of twenty years isn’t still infatuated with one other. So what keeps the process alive? For me, the answer was revealed by reading a startling sentence from the Upanishads, which are like a textbook of spiritual understanding. The sentence says, “You do not love a spouse for the sake of the spouse but for the sake of the self.”

At first glance this seems like a horrible sentiment: We all love on a personal basis and we expect to be loved the same way, for ourselves. But if “self” means your everyday personality, there is much that isn’t very lovable about each of us and as a marriage or relationship unfolds, there’s a guarantee that our partners will see those unlovable things more clearly. Even a knight in shining armor might want to save more than one damsel, and even saint must use deodorant once in a while.

In the world’s wisdom tradition, “love” and “self” are both universal. They exist beyond the individual personality. The secret of love is to expand beyond the personal. When people say that they want unconditional love, they often imply that they want to be loved despite their shortcomings, issues and quirks. But that’s nearly impossible if love remains at the personal level. At a certain point, if you begin to see love itself as your goal, universal love is more powerful and secure than personal love.

The poet Rabindranath Tagore described the spiritual side of love in a single expression” “Love is the only reality and it is not a mere sentiment. It is the ultimate truth that lies at the heart of creation.” The gift of human awareness is that we can locate the source of creation in ourselves. By going deeper into the self, asking “Who am I?” without settling for a superficial answer, the ego-personality fades. A sense of the true self begins to dawn, and it is this self that exists in contact with love as the only reality.

The journey becomes more fascinating if someone else travels with you. Life isn’t about abstractions; it’s about experience. If you have a beloved who stands for the feeling of love, bonding, and affection, your journey has a focus that can’t be supplied merely by thinking. The experiences that love bring include surrender, devotion, selflessness, giving, gratitude, appreciation, kindness and bliss. So if the phrase “universal love” seems daunting or improbable to you, break it down into these smaller experiences. Pursue them, and you will be traveling in the direction of your source, where the true self and true love merge.

That’s where my spoiler alert comes in. Announcing the secret of love cuts short the actual experience. It doesn’t always help to know what’s coming, because you might fall into exaggerated expectations and fall short. It’s better and more realistic to become aware that love is now your personal project. Show kindness and gratitude. Speak about what your beloved means to you. Every step on this journey works on behalf of the two of you but also on behalf of the self that unites you at the deepest level.