Posted by: counselorcarmella | July 19, 2012

Emotion Management Activity

Emotion Management Exercise
*This material is  compiled from the resources listed at the end of this piece.
Parts Of  the Brain
1. Brain stem or reptile brain is  focussed on survival needs and reactions of fight, flight, or freeze.
2.  Limbic system that is focussed on our feelings (right brain.)
3.  Neocortex that is focussed on  rational thinking (left brain.)
When we’re distressed, we can’t  make use of our neocortex or limbic system very well.  All we pull from is our reptile brain so options are limitted to fight, flight, or freeze.  We have to calm down to  access the other 2/3 of our brains.  This exercise helps us reengage the other two parts.
Close your eyes and recall the experience that is upsetting you.
Become physically aware. What are your bodily reactions?  I feel  (name physical sensation)… in my… (body part)  
Ex.  tightness in my stomach, tension in my shoulders,   a lump in my throat, etc.
Become emotionally aware.  What emotions most closely fit what you’re physically experiencing?  I feel… Simply naming what you’re feeling can calm you by 50%
There are four basic choices.  Feelings are either  about anger, anxiety, happiness, or sadness.
bodily sensations + thoughts = emotion.

Anxiety is about “what if?” thinking. You have thoughts of the future and everything that can go wrong.  Your physical sensations include a racing heart, tight muscles and clenched jaw. You want to flee the situation. 

With sadness, you have negative thoughts about the past. You feel tired and heavy; you might cry and have trouble concentrating. You might feel hopeless. “What’s the use?  What’s the point?” You feel frozen.

With anger, your thoughts are focused on how you or your values have been attacked. “That’s not fair. How dare you/they?” The physical sensations are similar to anxiety, including a racing heart and tightness in the body. You are prepared to fight. 

With happiness, your thoughts are focused on what you’ve gained. Physically, you feel light or calm, and you might laugh and smile. You feel free. 


Next, ask what  message you are getting from your emotions. If you aren’t sure, ask questions.
  • Anxiety: What am I afraid of?
  • Sadness: What have I lost?
  • Anger: How have I or my values been attacked?
  • Happiness: What have I gained? 
Become aware of your impulses. What do your feelings make you want to do?  I have an uncontrollable urge to…  swear, hit someone, laugh, cry, run, hide,  have a drink, hurt myself, etc.
Become aware of consequences. What might happen if you acted on your impulses?  The negative consequences are… If there aren’t any real negative consequences,  then it  might be an okay thing to do right now.
If I  swear at my boss, I might lose my job.
If I  hit someone, I might get  arrested.
If I hide, I won’t be able to get help.
If I cry, I might mess up my makeup.  So what?  I can fix it.
If I  dance around and laugh, people might think I’m weird.  So what?
If what you want to do could lead to negative consequences, become aware of alternate solutions.  What would be a better  thing to do right now? If there is a problem with a clear solution,   come up with an idea for  how to solve the problem or  for something that will move you in the direction of a solution. If you need to ccalm down first, or  there isn’t a  definite solution,  what you need will fall along the lines of Distraction or   self soothing.  The goal is to get to a calmer place physically and emotionally.  These things can include journaling, talking with someone,  exercise,  reading a book or watching a movie, or other activities that don’t involve  substances or  behaviors that could  make things worse.  If the consequence of the alternative is either neutral or good,  that means its  probably okay to do what you’re thinking about. 
If I   go for a quick walk, I’ll probably be calmer and more able to think clearly when I come back.
If I sleep on this and  come back to it tomorrow, I might have a different perspective and be less angry.
If I think through what I want to say beore confronting my friend, I’ll probably say it in a way that  comes across more positively and makes more sense.
Become aware of benefits.   What  would you gain from acting on a possible healthy  solution now that you can think using all three major parts of your brain?  Such as keep my job,  not feel guilty about  what I said to someone, not  feel gross for eating  all that ice cream, etc. This is also about the long term  benefits, such as “I’m getting better at managing my feelings in healthy ways,” “Its  nice to not have to regret what I did or said when I was upset,” “I’m proud of myself for  working to control my emotions,” and so on. Success breeds success. The more times you are able to do this, the  more confident you will feel about using this skill in the future.  
Going through this process when you’re highly upset can help you calm down and make better use of your brain.  Better use of your brain means choices that are  thought out and les risk of  acting in a way that will make your life more complicated.
“The Emotional ToolKit” by  Darlene Mininni PhD
Living Beyond Your Feelings:  Controlling Your Emotions So They  Don’t Control You  by Joyce Meyer
Stop Overreacting:  Effective Strategies for Calming Your Emotions by Judith Sigel 
The Bounce Back  Book:  How To Thrive in the Face of Adversity, Setbacks, and Losses by Karen Salmanson 

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