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Skillful Emotional Balance: A Cheat Sheet for Daily Practice

FACT: Emotional balance is NOT the human default mode. We may stumble upon moments of equilibrium when there are few or no challenges in the environment. But, most of the time, and certainly if you want to do something interesting with your life, there will be stress and challenges.

That said, it is not easy to regulate our emotional reactions to stress, in a healthy and balanced way. Humans are hardwired to fall into auto-pilot habits of coping with stress, which can fuel anxiety and moodiness. Sometimes we tend towards passive coping (e.g. avoidance, self-soothing, or pleasure seeking). Other times, we are more prone towards active coping (e.g. busyness, perfectionism, and pushing ourselves). The problem is, it’s easy to get stuck if we allow ourselves to slip too far into a particular mode or another.

But, it seems most of us assume that balance and emotion regulation “should” happen effortlessly, magically.  The truth is, we become what we practice every day. So if we get stuck in habitual extremes and imbalance – that will be reflected in our reality. The emotional well-being and balance we seek requires a fair degree of skillfulness. The more stress we experience, the more skillful we will have to be. So, if we truly want well-being to become second nature, as with any skill, it will require PRACTICE – PRACTICE – PRACTICE.

Every day I teach clients skills for coping with stress and balancing emotions. But even with repeated review and practice, strong emotions make it tough to remember the steps. So, I have created this cheat sheet for practicing ‘Just 3 Things’ for mindful coping with stress.

The cheat sheet includes 3 phases, each with 3 steps for moving into more balanced and healthy emotion regulation. These skills build upon one another. So they are best practiced sequentially. Work on mastering the first ones, before proceeding to the next. Each ‘phase’ is organized according to how to work with your emotions, thoughts, and actions. Each piece of experience requires a different type of skill. You may refer back to my previous blogs to learn more about these differences and how each influences the other.

If you practice these steps daily, or throughout the day, you can learn to prevent emotions from getting out of hand. But you’ll see, even as you read through the steps, you’ll already feel in your body that subtle shift that is self regulation. It’s up to you, you got this!

 

EMOTION REGULATION CHEAT SHEET

  1. ASSESS the elements of your experience:
  2. ACTION: Stop doing whatever you are doing, so that you may reflect on your own experience
    B. EMOTION: Label the emotion you are experiencing in the moment.
    a. Find the one word label: such as anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, fear, anxiety.
    C. THOUGHTS: What type of thoughts trap(s) might be fueling this emotion?
    a. All or None: Key words include; ‘always,’ ‘never,’ ‘completely’
    b. Judgmental: Keywords: ‘shouldn’t,’ ‘should,’ ‘bad,’ ‘not fair,’ etc.
    c. Catastrophizing: Assuming the absolute worst
    d. Mind Reading: Assuming you know the contents of someone else’s mind
    f. Time Traveling: Ruminating or worrying
  3. VALIDATE and REGULATE
  4. ACTION: Inhale, expanding the belly, for a count of 3; Exhale, contracting the belly, for a count of 5.
    a. Repeat 6 times
    B. EMOTION: Practice KIND – NON JUDGMENTAL- COMPASSION towards yourself for having the emotion. Validate it:
    a. Say to yourself “It makes sense that I am having this emotion, based on….”
    i. My history
    ii. Anyone would feel this way in the same situation
    iii. My current biological disposition (e.g. sleep deprivation, PMS, recent substance consumption, medical illness, other stressors)
    C. THOUGHTS: Let go of sticky obsessive thoughts, REDIRECT ATTENTION to the present moment using Breadth, Body, Sound.
    a. Move attention to the physical sensations of breathing.
    b. Next, scan the physical sensations in your body; feel yourself inside your skin suit
    c. Listen- attend to the sounds around you
  5. REGULATE
  6. ACTION: Identify and take the action OPPOSITE to the action tendency of the emotion. NOTE: Only if the emotion is extreme or has little chance of actually being justified (See a short video on purpose of emotions here).
    a. Anger → Gently avoid, and then practice compassion towards person or situation.
    b. Sadness → Get up, get moving, get active! Go for a workout, be social.
    c. Fear/Anxiety → Move toward the source of the fear, over and over again!
    d. Shame → Share, discuss, out yourself
    B. EMOTION: Develop a better relationship with your emotion. Practice Willingness to have the emotion you are having in the moment. This will help it to pass naturally, rather than remain stuck.
    a. Repeat the MANTRA “I am willing to have this feeling of…. In this moment
  7. THOUGHTS: Check your thoughts for accuracy. Are your thoughts 100% true?
    a. Seek to find an ALTERNATIVE INTERPRETATION of the facts, which is…
  8. Less all or none
    ii. Non-judgmental

iii. Based on the facts in the present moment (not past or future thoughts)
iii. Believable to you!

If you would like to learn more self-help skills to build your resilience and self-mastery, sign up for the Mindful-Mastery Skills Weekly here. Or follow me on Facebook Twitter, or Instagram! 

Skillful Emotional Balance: A Cheat Sheet for Daily Practice

Lara Fielding

Lara Fielding is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, who teaches, supervises, and specializes in the Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapies (CBT). Her private practice is in Los Angeles, where she is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University, Graduate School of Education and Psychology, and a Supervisor Psychologist at the UCLA Department of Psychology Clinic. Dr. Fielding teaches clients how to master the auto-pilot tendencies of the mind-body emotional system with mindfulness and self-care skills. As a behavioral psychologist, she works with clients to empower their skillfulness in managing stress and regulating difficult emotions. The skills she teaches are based on her research at UCLA, Harvard, and Peperdine, to incorporate the psycho-physiology of stress, emotion and cognition. Dr. Fielding has exhaustively studied the Mindfulness-Based CBT treatments (DBT, ACT, MBSR, MBCT) and their application for problems with Emotion Dysregulation. From this study, she derived a set of therapist guidelines for evidence-based practice. Dr. Fielding’s work is further informed by her research experience at UCLA and Harvard. Her research there explored the relationship between health behavior and the psycho-physiological effects of stress on cognition and emotion. Dr. Fielding is trained and experienced working with groups and individuals suffering from the effects of traumatic experiences, anxiety, and mood disorders. She has taught hundreds of clients concrete skills to better manage difficult emotions in the face of stressful life situations. With these cognitive and emotional skills in place, clients are guided towards personal values consistent behavioral change, in order to achieve their life goals.


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APA Reference
Fielding, L. (2017). Skillful Emotional Balance: A Cheat Sheet for Daily Practice. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 27, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-mastery/2017/08/skillful-emotional-balance-a-cheat-sheet-for-daily-practice/

 

Last updated: 24 Aug 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 24 Aug 2017
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.