How To Deal With Big Emotions – Increase Emotion Regulation
Orlando Counselor Shares How CBT Can Help
Emotionally healthy individuals have a wide range of emotions and feelings, which they accept with patience and self-compassion and without necessarily acting on them, instead managing and modifying emotional reactions to respond in a healthy way. This balanced way of dealing with emotions is called “emotion regulation”.
Emotion regulation skills develop during childhood. As the child matures, she develops an increasing ability to “regulate” her emotional reactions as she learns to express her feelings in healthy ways instead of reacting impulsively or hurtfully. These skills continue to mature during the teen years and the teen becomes more and more able to think constructively about how to handle her feelings. She is able to have feelings but is not overwhelmed by them; she can feel disheartened but won’t give up; she can feel anxious but will still go to school; and she can be excited about something but still use good judgment when making a decision.
Individuals who are able to regulate their emotions enjoy better mental health. They are able to work harder and achieve more. They are better able to resolve conflicts, are more caring toward others and have better social relationships.
Poor emotion regulation is called emotional dysregulation and it is considered to be a core feature of many emotional problems, including anxiety, depression, substance use, aggressive behavior, cutting and more. Poor emotion regulation contributes to interpersonal difficulties, less life satisfaction and a less optimistic view of the future. Emotional dysregulation is involved in more than half of the DSM-IV Axis I disorders and in all of the Axis II disorders, and it has been called a hallmark of psychopathology (Beauchaine, Gatzke-Kopp, and Mead 2006).
For those with poor emotion regulation, emotions and feelings often feel “big” and “out of control”. Because emotions feel so uncomfortable, emotion suppression is often attempted. However, this backfires, as those who try to suppress emotions have been found to feel more negative emotions, ruminate more, cope less effectively and be more depressed. Maladaptive behaviors, such as substance abuse, is often an attempt to cope because the intensity of the difficult emotion is temporarily reduced. Studies have found that individuals who attempt to suppress their emotions are less satisfied with themselves and their relationships and feel pessimistic about their future.
A healthier way to deal with negative emotions is with something called “cognitive reappraisal” or “cognitive restructuring”. Cognitive reappraisal and cognitive restructuring refers to recognizing the pattern of your thoughts and changing that pattern. This helps one’s emotions to be less intense and allows you to deal with the challenging situation or person in a more productive way. This is not the “power of positive thinking” but it is instead, a rational way of appraising the situation and helps you to change your perspective.
Research has found that the use of cognitive reappraisal in everyday life is connected to more positive emotions and better psychological health. In fact, people who habitually use cognitive restructuring showed lower symptoms of anxiety and depression and were generally more satisfied and optimistic. These individuals also enjoyed more personal growth, had better self-acceptance, better coping skills and had better interpersonal relationships.
At GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, our counselors and therapist specialize in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approaches that can help you develop balance and flexibility that is necessary for emotion regulation. A large body of research has found CBT to be as effective or more effective than medication. CBT has repeatedly been found to be more effective than other therapy approaches when it comes to treating issues such as depression, anxiety and emotion regulation.
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