STOP Emotional Dysregulation By Following These 5 Steps
Losing control of your emotions and behavior is not fun nor healthy. It is a complete roller coaster that leads to shame, self-hate, and never-ending conflict. Conflict with both ourselves and others, as the inability to self-regulate emotions, undeniably causes us to become disruptive in our society.
I am not saying to eliminate negative emotions out of your life — it is not possible anyway since all emotions are meant to be felt. The intent is to learn to regulate all emotions.
To give you some context. Without any sense of emotion regulation, a person can make (both positive and negative) emotions an erratic experience, as they will allow things to spin entirely out of control. For them, a celebration of triumph may lead to a night of absolute reckless behavior, and an argument can turn into a violent fight.
Most of us carry the ability to regulate emotions subconsciously. You might find that a baby will suck on a blanket to self-soothe. Or that an adult might listen to music to forget about a concern. Now, people that are successful at emotion regulation are those who take intentional steps to self-soothe.
These people accept and recognize their emotions (instead of repressing or feeling ashamed of them), they are aware of what helps them, and they take action to improve their situation.
Is it easy to do this work? Well, that depends on you. Achieving proper emotion regulation is an individualized endeavor, as the only expert in you is you. If this is a skill that you want to develop, you have to put in the work and go through trial and error until you find what works for you and what does not.
To begin, let’s start you up with a 5 step plan based on Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). This plan intends to encourage you to take control of your conflicting thoughts that lead to heightened emotions.
Let me present you with the 5-step Stop plan!
Step 1: STOP
Visualize the STOP sign for a few seconds, and make sure that you are stopping all overthinking and unhelpful thoughts. Make efforts to give your mind a conscious break.
Step 2: BREATH
Focus your attention on slow diaphragm breathing.
I know this step may seem tedious so let me explain why you need to breathe.
Breathing will help you step back from your (unhelpful) thoughts and shift your attention to a mindful activity. On top of that, breathing will naturally reduce symptoms of distress in your body. You cannot attempt to soothe the mind without easing the body.
Step 3: Mindful Observation (of the mind and body)
Take a look at your self-talk. What is the content of your thoughts right now? Where is your focus of attention? Are you fixated on something? What are you reacting to? What sensations do you notice in your body? Where in your body do you feel them.
Try to ask yourself these questions (even if there is no answer), and take some time to sense the level of reactivity you are experiencing as you do this.
Step 4: Use Perspective
Ensure that you are not stuck on the initial idea that caused you to escalate the situation. This is the moment when you pull back for a few minutes to think of alternative ways to look at the problem. Unhook yourself from obsessive ideas and remember not to believe everything you think.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What is a reasonable explanation for what happened?
- Where is the evidence?
- What would you tell a friend in this circumstance?
- Are my thoughts based on facts or personal opinions?
- How important and impactful is this?
Step 5: Practice What Works
You might be considering to opt for using your destructive coping skills. Whatever that is, I am sure it is tempting in moments of emotional crisis. My suggestion is, STAY AWAY FROM THOSE.
Do what works! You should give a try (or several) to the solutions given by decades of research and human effort (e.g. CBT, DBT, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, reading, exercising, and self-care). If you are resistant to making use of them, that is your prerogative; but know that you do not get to complain.
If you are open to engaging in healthier practices, then ask yourself.
What is the best thing to do right now for me? What is the best course of action I should take when it comes to taking care of myself and others at this moment?
You can find these answers by honoring your values and having a premeditated list of adequate soothing skills. Believe that there is safety in being proactive about your mental health.
Here are some ideas you can practice for this step:
- Grounding exercises (5 senses, butterfly hug, deep breathing, body scan)
- Mindful distractions (the mindful window exercise, coloring, drawing, reading, writing, mindful eating, decluttering, meditating, doing yoga)
- CBT exercises (cognitive reframing, create counterstatements for your thoughts, practice affirmations)
I hope that you can add this to your toolbox of emotion control skills. Feel free to take this plan and adapt it to things that do work for you.