To carry you into the weekend, I’d like to share with you a bit of knowledge regarding our emotional responses and how we can increase our self-awareness. We'll start off with a few definitions and shuffle right into some tasks to get you moving! Let’s Define Some Terms! To avoid sounding redundant, primary and secondary reactions are simply how you emotionally respond to any given situation, and more specifically for our purposes, under distressing circumstances. Surely you can imagine a time when you’ve come home and felt an overwhelming urge to lash out at your son, who although politely greets you at the door, failed to put away any dishes and left a shoe trail across your living room floor. Your body begins to shake, your temperature increases and your thoughts fixated. That is what we call anger, your primary emotional reaction. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the notion of coping mechanisms, but if not, let me shed a bit of light. Coping mechanisms are simply tools that we use in order to manage the discomfort of emotional reactions. Lashing out, calling your son “useless”, grabbing a bottle of wine and avoiding him for the rest of the evening were your (unhealthy) coping mechanisms. You head to bed, still fuming, but feeling validated – who does he think he is?! Waking up the next morning you experience an overwhelming heaviness of anxiety and guilt. This is what we refer to as secondary emotional reactions. Secondary emotions are a result of your primary response. These emotions can vary in strength and have the ability to become much more overwhelming than your primary emotional reaction (in this case, anger). As explained in the Dialectal Behavioural Therapy Skills Workbook, “Your primary emotional reaction to a situation can set off a limitless chain reaction of distressing secondary emotions that cause you much more pain” (https://doctorlib.info/psychiatry/dialectical-behavior-therapy/7.html). And now for the finale – emotional dysregulation. Emotional dysregulation is the inability to identify and cope with primary and secondary emotions in healthy ways. As our example details, your overwhelming physical and emotional response resulted in you lashing out at your son and drinking a bottle of wine to manage your discomfort. Fast forward to the following morning, and you feel paralyzed with guilt and anxiety. Tell me, do these reactions and coping mechanisms sound like they’re working towards personal development, self-awareness and mindfulness? We all have our personal journeys, but I feel pretty confident this is a resounding “NO”! If/when you determine that what you are currently experiencing isn’t working, then you have just taken the first step to deepening your awareness.
Mindfulness Suggestions So now that we’ve briefly touched on defining the terms, let’s jump into some mindfulness tasks to take you through your weekend: 1. Emotional and Behavioural Patterns There are, of course, scenarios in which raw emotional reactions are very much appropriate. Perhaps you’ve just been informed about a death in your family and you cry uncontrollably. This is a normal reaction. Where it becomes abnormal is if you find yourself uncontrollably crying under circumstances that don’t necessarily suit the reaction (i.e., a colleague provides you with constructive criticism). Suggestion Getting started means holding yourself accountable. As you advance through the day, designate 3 times to document the instances where you felt emotional (pro tip: setting alarms so you don’t forget is a great way to keep the momentum going). What occurred before, during and after your emotional reaction? If you enjoy that pen to paper feeling, like myself, open up a journal and start taking notes! If you’re a little bit more electronically-inclined, then feel free to open up an app and start documenting. Stay mindful and keep track! 2. Identifying and Labelling Emotions Another characteristic of emotional dysregulation is the inability to identify and label emotions. Developing a connection and strengthening your ability to identify and label will allow you better access to healthy coping mechanisms. Suggestion Remember when your body began to shake and your temperature rise, as your thoughts fixated on the dirty dishes? This response is a great way to begin labelling your emotions. Remember, we all experience these emotions in different ways; try to focus on YOUR experience. What looks like anger to someone else, may not actually feel like anger to you. Develop a vocabulary! Sometimes we’re not quite sure how to label an emotion. The internet is a great tool to help you out. Simply type in “list of emotions” into your search engine, and you’ll have a trustworthy guide to provide you with some insight.
3. Coping Mechanisms And last, but certainly not least, coping mechanisms! Up until this point we’ve: · Documented our emotional responses · Noticed behavioural patterns · Expanded our vocabulary, and · Identified and Labelled So, where do we go from here?
Suggestion Remember that journal I recommended you pull out? In addition to documenting your emotional responses, pay close attention to how you managed these responses. How did you feel before, during and after you utilized a particular coping mechanism? Be observant, without judgement. Conclusion The purpose of these tasks are to begin developing a sense of awareness, and open-mindedly explore alternatives to the (unhealthy) patterns you may be engaging in. In the future, we’ll come back to coping mechanisms and look at some healthier tools to utilize. Always be kind to yourself. We’re all human; we all experience these urges, sensations and reactions. And remember, this is for YOU so be honest; the only person you’ll be lying to is yourself! Stay mindful and be kind to yourself!