Coping techniques: Self regulation

Please note that you should always consult with your physician before making any changes in your diet, your level of exercise and activity, medication or behaviors related to substance use.

The best way to make use of these techniques is to read through them, select three that stand out to you and practice them. I would be glad to hear from you on your responses.

  1. The first self-regulation skill is deciding that you want to regulate your emotional responses.
  2. Remind yourself that while feelings are true (for instance, I’m actually feeling afraid right now), they aren’t necessarily accurate (I’m not currently at risk).
  3. In order to regulate emotional responses you may first need to increase your awareness of those responses.
  4. It can be helpful to review a list of emotions and take a moment to identify them, from both your own experience and from your observations of other people. Item 16 below is an example of a list of emotions. Have some been left out that you can think of? Which ones?
  5. When watching television or a movie identify the feeling states of the characters you’re observing.
  6. On a scale of one to ten, where one is such faint feeling that it’s almost imperceptible to you and ten is the most intensely you’ve ever felt, rate your current feelings.
  7. In order to increase feeling, or up-regulate, make use of dance and broad movements, energetic music and exposure to light. To decrease feeling—down-regulate—use progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing. If the feeling is positive, access those thoughts (such as reviewing things you feel proud of), people (friends or family who are optimistic and supportive of you) and places (beautiful parks or busy malls) that enhance that feeling. If on the other hand the feeling is problematic
  8. Learn to recognize the signs of arousal, whether the arousal is of fear, anger, sadness or some other feeling state. How does your body feel during a period of strong emotion? Do you experience a sense of tightness anywhere? What do you notice about your breathing? Are there any physical sensations such as tingling, heat, cold? How does your chest, stomach, neck feel?
  9. Consider keeping a log of your responses to different people/topics/situations. As well as your feeling response—anger, say, or sadness—note the level of your response. Using the 1 through 10 scale can be useful for this. This can be useful for noticing patterns of response, so that when you’re going to enter a situation which has some triggers for you, you have an opportunity to prepare to meet it more effectively. To plan ahead. For instance, you notice that when you talk to a certain member of your family you tend to experience sadness at level 8, which is pretty high. What might you put in place for yourself to help you?
  10. In mindfulness practice, one way to meet an experience that you know will contain a trigger for sadness is to simply observe the sadness. Observe that you’re feeling sad. That sadness is in itself neither good nor bad, but just one inner event in an unending stream of inner events. In this practice there’s nothing that needs to be done because the feeling—sadness—doesn’t need to be corrected, changed or avoided. In the nature of things feelings rise up, linger a little while and sink back down, their place taken by another feeling. Mindfulness can promote respect for and detachment from feelings. Feelings are true—you’re really having them—but they don’t need to be acted on.
  11. Another way to meet an experience that you know will contain a trigger for a problematic feelings, for instance high levels of sadness, is to limit your exposure to the trigger. For instance, if you notice that you feel sad when you talk to that certain family member, manage the contact with them to keep it on the shorter side—a brief visit or phone call, rather than a lengthy one. Plan some refreshment or reward or relaxation for yourself for after the contact. While you engage with them, notice your feeling response. Let yourself observe that this is a feeling, and the feeling is of sadness. During the contact reflect from time to time on the nice thing you have planned for yourself when it’s over.
  12. In the same way that you can keep a feeling log, you can also notice, record and track your thoughts. This can be helpful in tracking automatic thoughts—ideas, images or logics that seem to occur very rapidly in response to specific situations, often without our noticing them. Even though we don’t notice them, they can still have an impact on our feelings, intensity of those feelings and our behaviors. Tracking such thoughts is an effective way to “slow them down” and to assess them. Some basic thought assessment tools are to ask, “Is this true? If I believe it to be true, how do I know that? When did I first learn this?” And another line of assessment is, “Whether what I’m thinking is true or maybe not always true, is it useful? Does thinking this help me reach the goal I’m going for, whether that’s to achieve some accomplishment or to have peaceful feelings in my life?”
  13. Rumination is the review of emotionally charged memories, often the same memory over and over again. If you are reviewing the memory of an event in which you felt fear, begin to notice that the repeated recollection can increase the level of fear you’re feeling. As if each time the memory comes around it deposits a little more to the mood. Therefore as you become aware that you are ruminating, interrupt it, for instance by saying or thinking the word “stop,” which can be enhanced by picturing a stop sign. Experiment with substituting a memory of something that makes you feel safe, happy or accomplished. Focus on this positive memory and review it several times.
  14. Consider that an emotional regulator can be anything you do that soothes you in times of distress and that doesn’t itself cause distress or problems. Going for a walk in a park or public garden can be regulating activities. So can contacting a supportive friend, or writing in a journal. Think of the John Lennon song, “Whatever Gets You through the Night.”
  15. Practice a centering technique. Centering means returning from distraction and distress to a place of calm, where you are most yourself. There are many different forms of this basic technique. Here is a brief review of some, but there are many more possible, so experiment to see what works best for you. Visual: Gazing around you, how many blue objects can you count? Name them to yourself. Then count the number of green objects you can see. Auditory: What sounds can you hear at this moment? Name them to yourself—traffic, birds, the air conditioner, the fan in your computer. The sense of smell: Smell different flowers and focus on the differences in their fragrances. Make yourself a cup of ginger tea and inhale the clean aromatic aroma. Open an orange and breathe in its perfume. Taste: Suck on a sugar-free mint. Or put a tiny amount of salt on your tongue. Or have a piece of chocolate. The sense of touch: Remove your shoes and socks and rub the soles of your feet against the carpet. Stroke a soft blanket or piece of velvet gently across your face. While seated in a comfortable chair relax and feel your body press into the chair and the chair support your body. Cognitive: Name as many state capitols as you can. Name five breeds of dog, or five kinds of apple or the planets (do you count Pluto?). Temporal: Count to ten, or backwards from one hundred. Moving in the environment: Go for a ride on a bus or on a train. Or to a mall to be among other people. Or to an exercise group at your local gym or YMCA. Bodily: Go jogging, or practice yoga or aerobic exercise. Or pass a small flexible rubber ball from hand to hand, squeezing it as you do.
  16. List of emotions:
amused comforted envious important protective triumphant
angry compassionate excited inferior quick unsatisfied
annoyed confident frightened ironic regretful vengeful
anxious contemptuous grieving joyful sad woeful
apologetic deflated guilty knowledgeable satisfied yearning
aroused delighted hateful loving shy zealous
ashamed disappointed happy murderous special
bored disgusted hopeful naughty superior
brave eager hopeless peaceful tender
cheerful embarrassed horrified pleased thrilled