The emotional brain engages those response routines that were learned earliest in life during repeated moments of emotional experience. Each person has particular dominant emotional response routines. These routines are memory based and emotion-specific. If a person wishes to change their emotional response habits, new habits need to be overlearned during calm times or times of emotional non-stimulation if these new habits are to be accessible when needed most. New emotional responses need to become very familiar and well practiced. If a response is practiced so that it has become automatic, it has a better chance of finding expression during emotionally difficult times. A new emotional response needs to become an acquired first response (or at least a not-too-belated second response) in the repertoire of the emotional circuitry. New emotional responses need attention, effort, and repeated practice. The following list offers various possibilities, each of which can be practiced in order to develop a new emotional circuitry. There are many more possibilities listed here than one person likely can do. What you should do is choose ones that you respond to positively and integrate the practice of these into your daily life.
Things to Do in the Moment of Having Problematic Emotions –
(1) Take “Time-Outs”. Retreat temporarily and return when you feel better.
(2) Talk to another person.
(3) Move around or engage in physical activity.
(4) Stay in present. Don’t think about the past or the future.
(5) Engage in a simple repetitive activity.
(6) Do something that requires focused concentration.
(7) Practice the technique of attention shifting and diversion.
(8) Experience something immediately pleasurable.
(9) Visualize a relaxing and/or comforting person or scene.
(10) Practice assertiveness with feelings.
(11) Identify and express your feelings.
(12) Focus on your self rather than blaming other people for your emotions.
(13) Consider “rescue factors” for yourself in times of strong problematic emotions.
Things to Remember –
(14) Remember it is your response to an emotion that is most important, not the emotion itself.
(15) Remember that intense emotional periods, such as panic attacks or great anger, are temporary experiences. Let the intense emotion pass through you. With panic attacks remember that no one has ever died from a panic attack.
(16) Don’t try to do too much or expect too much of yourself while you are experiencing an intense emotion. Don’t fight your emotion.
(17) Remember that a strong emotion is a part of you, not all of you. Let it be a part of you without this part dominating you.
(18) Remind yourself that severe problematic emotions are just a manifestation of a wiring defect in your brain and are not you.
Developing a Witness/Awareness –
(19) Observe your emotional experience with the calm clarity of an external witness.
(20) Try to notice your emotional experience impartially without reacting to it.
(21) Don’t fight the feelings –
(A) “Meet” them without interpreting them or giving them meaning.
(B) Allow time to pass.
(C) Float with them rather than forcing your way through them.
(22) Instead of trying to do something about the problematic emotions, simply be aware of your experience in the present moment in as many ways as you can – thoughts, feelings, five senses experience of your present environment, body sensations, sense of self, and awareness itself.
(23) Practice stopping, staying with the emotion, and seeing what it is connected to.
(24) Keep a diary of your problematic emotions. Write out your experience.
(25) After keeping a diary for a week, look for patterns in your experience. Then look for ways to work with these patterns.
(26) Name your emotion. Then investigate this emotion, explore the effects of this emotion, and evaluate how this emotion suits and/or does not suit you.
(27) If you have an enduring problematic emotion, take the attitude of self-exploration. Simply explore what you are feeling. Two things are important. (A) Do not look outside yourself. (B) Do not judge what arises in your exploration.
(28) Try to look “underneath” the problematic emotion and to determine what unmet need this emotion is connected to – then try to fulfill that unmet need.
(29) Get all the facts you can about specific fears.
(30) Try to express the essence of the “problem” aspect of your emotional experience in a word, short phrase, or sentence, and then during your daily life often ask yourself this word or phrase or sentence as a question for exploration of your emotional experience in that moment.
Changing Your Emotions –
(31) Let go of your problematic emotions through:
A) Observing your emotion
B) Experiencing your emotion as a wave, coming and going
C) Remembering you are not your emotion
D) Practicing accepting, rather than judging, your emotion
(32) Change your problematic emotions by acting opposite to the current emotion:
A) Approach anxiety-triggering situations gradually;
Do what you are afraid of doing
B) Repair what you feel guilty or shame about if this is justified;
If not justified do what makes you feel guilty or ashamed
C) For sadness or depression, get active and don’t avoid
D) For anger, take time-outs, gently avoid the anger stimulus when too angry, and focus on sympathy and empathy rather than blame
(33) Change your problematic emotions through gradual exposure:
List all the situations in which a particular problematic emotion arises and then rank these situations according to the degree of strength of the emotion. Then pick a situation in which the emotion experienced is relatively mild, intentionally expose yourself to that situation, and try to make it through the situation without letting your emotions determine your behavior. Over time gradually expose yourself to increasingly strong emotions, develop your ability to tolerate problematic emotions, and learn how to handle these situations in healthy ways.
Working with Your Thinking –
(34) Learn about the tendency of mind to pay attention to negative stimuli. Read about “negativity bias” and “attention blink” on the internet.
(35) Identify your habitual thought habits. In particular, in your thinking, how do you:
1) Exaggerate 2) Catastrophize 3) Overgeneralize 4) Ignore the positive
(36) Keep a daily record of your dysfunctional thoughts.
(37) Practice counter-statements that are realistic responses to your habitual thought habits.
(38) Examine whether your thoughts reflect reality as-it-is.
(39) Examine evidence for your thoughts – are your thoughts realistic?
(40) Relate to your thoughts as brain events rather than absolute truths.
(41) Think through situation to the worst possible outcome.
(42) Repeat positive coping statements.
(43) Use affirmations to counter mistaken beliefs that you may have.
(44) Make a list of images of disaster or pain or humiliation and consider each in light of logic and degree of probability.
(45) Re-label problematic emotions as manifestations of pathological brain processes.
(46) Talk to your emotion. Tell your emotion something like you’re safe or you’ll be alright or you can calm down.
(47) Work on countering your inner critic.
Breath, Body, and Soul –
(48) Use breathing (or relaxing) in combination with coping statements.
(49) Practice deep abdominal breathing and/or muscle relaxation.
(50) Focus on your breath.
(51) Whenever you find your breath shallow and/or rapid, breathe more deeply and slowly.
(52) Breathe into your problematic emotion and release it with your out-breath.
(53) Put your hand on your belly and pay attention to that, not to your problematic thoughts/feelings.
(54) Focus on your body sensations.
(55) Regularly do a physical exercise program.
(56) Always get a good night’s sleep.
(57) Eat a healthy diet.
(58) Avoid drugs and only consume small amounts or no alcohol.
(59) Engage body practices like acupuncture and massage.
(60) Regularly do a meditation practice.
(61) Regularly do relaxation exercises.
(62) If you have excessive stress, find ways to lower your stress.
(63) Work on improving your body image.
(64) Take steps towards achieving your goals.
(65) Work on discovering and realizing significant meaning and purpose issues
(66) Utilize your spiritual beliefs and practices to decrease problematic emotions.
(67) Recommended Reading
“Negativity bias” and “attention blink.”
Alvaro Pascual-Leone, “The Brain That Plays Music and Is Changed by It.”
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