Curious about how to deal with emotions in healthy ways? Let’s start with a definition of emotions that comes from DBT founder Marsha Linehan, Ph.D.
Linehan says that emotions are a “full-system response.” Feelings are a part of that full-system response, but there’s more going on in your body/brain/mind (your system) than how you’re feeling about something.
“ … a full-system response … includes not only the way we feel, but [also] the way we think, which could include images, memories, or urges. In addition, emotions trigger physiological reactions that cause changes in body chemistry and body language,” according to DBT founder Marsha Linehan (from DBT Made Simple by Sheri van Dijk, MSW).
A feeling is a feeling.
An emotion is a feeling + thoughts and images and memories and/or urges + changes in your physical body, especially the nervous system.
“ … Emotions can show up differently depending on the person and the situation. Some expressions of emotion are hardwired into us and look the same no matter where you are on the planet; for example, we cry when we feel sad and frown when we’re angry. But because each emotion can be accompanied by so many different physiological sensations, thoughts, and urges, everyone’s experience of any given emotion is somewhat unique.” (ibid)
The pre-frontal cortex (the healthy executive functioning, impulse control, emotional regulation and decision-making part of your brain) goes offline when we don’t feel safe.
When your nervous system doesn’t feel safe, it gets triggered, or activated. Too much stress, not enough sleep, a jolting reminder of something bad that happened back in the day, a nasty side-eye you think you got from a co-worker. Any of those can result in a wide variety of physiological changes.
“Most people notice an increase in heart rate or feel their heart beating harder. They might experience shortness of breath, tightness or pain in the chest, nausea, or dizziness.” (ibid)
Other changes in your body can include:
- digestive issues
- hypervigilance, constantly scanning for threats and danger
- a sense of being numbed out
- low energy
- tiredness, fatigue
Thoughts and Memories
Some possibilities for the thoughts that can happen so quickly you’re lost in the weeds before you know it include:
- needing to escape or hide or run away
- fear of going crazy, or losing it
- fear of acting in ways that scare you
- memories of other times when you felt this way, or did lose it, or couldn’t manage staying present with what felt overwhelming
When your nervous system is stressed, then gets activated into overwhelm and overdrive, it’s a very short step into knee-jerk (mind-jerk?) reactions that can end up hurting someone because you couldn’t control it.
Six Main Emotions
DBT focuses on six main emotions when people are having a hard time holding onto their stuff, and going into emotional overwhelm. Those six emotions are:
- shame or guilt
One very helpful thing you can do is keep a simple daily log of these six emotions + two others you’re curious about or experience on a regular basis.
Set up a spreadsheet or draw a simple chart in a journal or make a bullet-point list with the following categories. You’re just looking for data, the sequence of events and what you thought, felt, and how you acted.
There aren’t any wrong answers. There’s no way to do this incorrectly.
Don’t worry if you can’t keep a complete log right now. Doing anything to help you become more self-aware of what’s happening during your day will help you better understand your experiences. Which can eventually allow your healthy adult Self / Wise One / Future Self to be in charge of what’s happening.
The categories to log are:
- the emotion, using the six listed above, plus two others
- body responses (physical sensations, body language, facial expressions)
- thoughts (including memories, images, judgments)
- urges (what you feel like doing when you experience the emotion)
- behaviors (what you actually do when you experience the emotion)
- consequences (impact or effect of the behavior, such as self-judgments; note: there are positive consequences when you lose your sh*t as well, such as releasing too much pent up anger and frustration)
Recognize When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed
Emotions are natural responses to events that happen around us. They’re part of our daily lives, all day long, whether we’re feeling happy, sad, angry, or frustrated.
But when you let negative emotions control you, it will affect your relationships, your health, and your ability to cope with stress.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by your emotions, try using some of these tips to help you deal with your emotions in healthy, life-affirming ways.
Begin With Breathing
1) Take a deep breath. And then, take another one. Try counting breaths, from 1-5. Inhale and exhale – 1. Inhale and exhale — 2. Inhale and exhale — 3
Focus on the Good
2) Focus on what’s good in your life.
Every evening before bed, take a few minutes and remember three good things that happened during your day. Super simple is great. You got out of bed or the sunrise or sunset colors were pretty? That counts. The woman at the checkout at Trader’s was kind? That really counts. Your life is made of moments all day long that can be hard, crazy-making, painful, and peaceful, simple, and good. Help your brain focus on the good.
Talk With Someone Who Cares
3) Talk to someone who cares about you.
Well … someone or something. Your doggo, or lap cat, or pet bird or horse — oftentimes they’re absolutely the best listener. If you don’t have a person in your life who cares enough about you to hear you, that might be a clue that it’s time for a little therapy with the right therapist.
Write it Down
4) Write down your thoughts and feelings.
Take a look at the paragraph above, and use that simple q-n-a to log your emotions / thoughts / feelings.
Have a Little Fun (Honest, it Won’t Hurt You)
5) Do something fun.
And the last time you had fun was … when?!! If you can’t remember = not good. If it was so long enough that it makes you sad thinking about it, also not good. Two questions for you to ask yourself: what do I want? can I allow myself to have what I want?
It’s All About Sleep
6) Get enough sleep.
This is so important. How you slept the night before is what determines the kind of day you’re going to have. Getting enough of the right kind of sleep is everything. Here’s a good article with some simple ideas for you to explore.
7) Pay attention to what you’re eating and drinking.
I know, it’s hard. I can tell what my stress level is by my cookie consumption — more cookies and cupcakes = more stress and anxiety.
Move It, Baby
8) Exercise regularly.
Who wants to exercise when you’re too anxious or stressed or depressed to deal? Not me! But no matter how much your mind is telling you not do it, listen to your Wise Mind Self, and take that walk or dance it out. It’s OK if it’s in the living room, pacing back and forth. It’s OK if it only lasts five minutes. It’s OK if it’s chair yoga. Anything you can do to move your physical body is fantastically better than giving up.
9) Practice mindfulness.
Each of these suggestions is actually a mindfulness practice. If you’d like to know more, I love Tara Brach’s work. Her website has pages of free mindfulness guided meditations and talks.
Def Not Least
10) Don’t forget to laugh!
Laughter breaks the chain of emotional dysregulation, which can be enough to remind yourself that there’s more to your life than pain, sorrow, sadness, or anger. Find a funny film or TV series to stream, and let yourself laugh. Isn’t this a cool way to help deal with your emotions?!
Take A Pajama Day
Just is just a fun (see #5 above) gift to give yourself. Yes, you can. No, you leaving your endless to-do list behind for a whole, entire day is OK. Sometimes it’s the healthiest, most positive, best emotional regulation strategy you can use. Try it!
Deal With Your Emotions: How The Santa Fe Therapist Can Help
I’m Melanie, the Santa Fe Therapist. Over the years, I’ve helped a lot of people who are struggling with emotional overwhelm and acting in ways they hate. One thing I’ve learned is that profoundly positive things begin happening when you understand how to manage your emotions and learn how to calm down your nervous system.
Together, we’ll figure out what’s going on and what you need to begin feeling more in control and have developed the neuroscience strategies to help you find your joy again.
Your Emotions, Thoughts, and Actions are Connected
One of the most powerful ways to do that is to understand how your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are connected. When you learn how to …
- make friends with your feelings,
- manage your thoughts,
- gently explore where to find your joy again,
- your life will begin changing in positive, healthy ways.
The dark times won’t feel so dark and isolating, and you’ll start believing in life again.
In balancing the science of therapy with the art of healing, I’ll create an innovative program for you that sets you on a path of success from the very first session.
You can learn to not be afraid of how you’re feeling, and how to begin feeling satisfied with life and looking forward to your future.
Neuroscience, Eastern Wisdom, & Earth-based Practices
My compassionate, creative approach weaves together my ability to hear below the surface of the words with advanced degrees, years of specialized training, professional experience, and my own personal healing around grief.
One of my specialities is giving women the tools to cope with intense emotions. I use the latest neuroscience findings, and combine Western systems, Eastern wisdom, gentle Earth-based practices, as well as creative, innovative ideas to help you feel better as quickly as possible.
My clients usually work with me weekly for 8 to 12 months. As we work together, you’ll be getting tools for long-term success and learning and using strategies and techniques to serve you for many years.
You’ll work hard for sure. But won’t all be horrible and terrible! I love sharing ideas about good books and films and laughing together once in a while.
How to Get Help in Santa Fe, NM
When you reach out for professional help, you’re making an investment in yourself that can change in your life in the best of ways.
When you strengthen your self-esteem and build your self-confidence, you’ll begin feeling safe in this sometimes chaotic world. You’ll be able to be in the world on your terms … to work, and love, and live as part of you deeply knows is possible.
All you have to do is send me an email to schedule a free, 15-minute phone consultation: firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s get you feeling better as quickly as possible.
The Santa Fe Therapist Offers Online Counseling in New Mexico
Online therapy helps busy women find the time away from day-to-day pressures to calm their nervous systems. It also makes it easy and convenient to process emotions and learn new neuroscience techniques to cope with challenges, heal the past, and begin building your future.
I strongly believe in the power of online counseling. Along with the research that proves its effectiveness, I see the positive benefits for clients every week. Click here if you’ve got questions about online therapy.
Online counseling from anywhere in New Mexico, including Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Taos, Los Alamos, Pecos, Las Vegas, Tesuque and El Dorado.
Other Services From The Santa Fe Therapist
The Santa Fe Therapist specializes in several areas of health, wellbeing, healing and recovery. I know that one size never fits all. My services are individualized to each client, and are based on your values, your needs and desires, and your goals.
I offer individual adult counseling and guidance in Santa Fe NM for: