- Toolkit homepage
- Keep track of your progress
- Step 1: Learn Why Your Emotions Matter
- Step 2: Discover Quick Stress Relief
- Step 3: Beat Stress with Emotional Connection
- Step 4: Learn to Ride the Wild Horse
- Step 5: Practice and Enjoy the Benefits
(Step 1) Emotions Matter!
JEANNE SEGAL: Hello, I'm Jeanne Segal, and I’m here to help you reduce stress, defeat anxiety, conquer depression, and build better relationships. If you are challenged by these kinds of problems, you may be unsure about your ability to help yourself. But I assure you, it’s entirely possible.
When you know how your brain works, you can change the way you feel, think, and act. You achieve this by learning and practicing two core skills: The ability to quickly reduce stress in the moment, and the ability to remain comfortable enough with your emotions to react in constructive ways. Together, these core skills enable you to be both emotionally and socially healthy. In other words, with these resources or tools in hand, you can practice emotional health and emotional intelligence.
Whether you are aware of it or not, emotions are the driving force behind most of what you do. A growing body of scientific evidence emphasizes the importance of emotional experiences. What you feel, rather than think, is the strongest link you have to your best actions and intentions.
MARY HELEN IMMORDINO-YANG, ED.D.: In the most basic sense, emotions keep you alive. They’re the things that keep you out from being in front of moving buses, they’re the things that keep you off from edges of steep cliffs, and they’re the things that make you fall in love and have families. But they’re also the things that steer your everyday thinking and decision making from moment to moment. Without them, it’s impossible to live.
JEANNE SEGAL: Feeling sparks motivation and decision-making. Feeling gives you access to self-knowledge and self-awareness. Feeling shapes your judgment and defines your personality.
DR. ALLAN SCHORE: One has to understand the importance of emotion. There has been a transformation in psychology, which was once interested in behavior, then in cognition, and right now we are going through what has been termed an ‘Emotional Revolution.’ Emotion is now at the heart of a lot of scientific research. It’s at the heart of understanding early emotional development, and also emotion is at the heart of all forms of psychotherapeutic change.
JEANNE SEGAL: To learn the core skills that connect you to your emotional experience, you’ll need to engage the non-verbal, emotional parts of your brain.
DR. ALLAN SCHORE: Throughout life, we are always emotional communicating with other human beings underneath the words.
JEANNE SEGAL: This toolkit is designed for this purpose. It provides you with the wide range of penetrating sensory-rich information that you see, hear, and do. The toolkit contains articles and exercises, plus audio meditations I’ll guide you through. Together, these resources give you sensory-rich tools for acquiring the emotional skills you need to bring your life into balance.
This may sound like a lot to do, but remember you’re choosing to make an investment of time that will make you smarter, healthier and happier for the rest of your life. And the more you choose to invest, the better you’ll feel.
(Step 1) Roadblocks to Awareness
Social and emotional well-being depend on your ability to remain aware of your feelings. Many people don’t or can’t do this. To keep your intentions for change on track, let’s begin by identifying thoughts and habits that get in the way of experiencing your emotions.
Emotion hasn’t always been valued. For centuries, feeling was associated with our so-called “animal nature.” Human superiority was linked to an ability to think, and emotion was thought to compromise this ability. A more immediate and personal reason for avoiding emotions is that many people, often early in life, have been intimidated by painful or confusing emotional experiences. Hurtful and frightening memories make them fearful or doubtful about the values of emotions like anger. For example, if you grew up in a home where anger equated with acting-out behavior, you may view all emotions as more painful or dangerous than they really are. Or, you might see emotion as an obstacle, rather than as a resource for positive connection to yourself and others. This effort to avoid feelings absorbs time, attention and energy.
To distract ourselves from painful emotions, we develop diverting, distracting habits. We may drink too much, talk too much, worry or think too much, or spend too much time plugged in for the sake of distraction.
Like it or not, emotional experience plays a huge, and potentially positive, role in your life. By facing and limiting the thoughts and habits that keep you from connecting to your emotions, you prevent these roadblocks from hijacking your attempts to bring your life into balance.
As you learn and practice the core skills contained in this toolkit, you’ll find it easier to set aside distracting thoughts and behaviors. Your roadblocks will have simply lost their purpose. You won’t need them anymore.
(Step 2) Quick Stress Relief
The first core skill needed for emotional health and emotional intelligence is quick stress relief. This skill can rapidly bring overwhelming stress and emotions back into balance.
Think of an elastic band stretched to its limit. That’s your nervous system under pressure. Stress relief is what’s needed to quickly relieve this tension. Believe it or not, stress is a necessary ingredient for life. By balancing the ability to remain both calm and alert, stress sets the stage for all learning. But high levels of stress can block emotional awareness by overwhelming your nervous system. The result? Automatic responses that cause you to fight, flee, or freeze, but little else. To regulate internal and external sources of stress, you’ll first have to recognize that you are stressed, and then be able to quickly bring it into balance. This may sound easy, but it’s tricky because of habits that interfere with your ability to notice stress. We are all too accustomed to distraction; it’s rare to have a moment without being preoccupied by technological gadgetry or our own absorbing thoughts.
We can also numb the physical sensations that signal stress by habitually holding our breaths and clenching our insides. The Ride the Wild Horse meditative exercise, on the audio parts of this toolkit, address these obstacles and help you work on them.
To regulate stress, you will first have to become aware of how you respond to it. Though, internally everybody’s response to stress is similar, people react very differently. When you’re stressed, do you get angry, or do you shut down and space out, or do you freeze? If you’re a person who tends to shut down, space out, or freeze, you may not even be aware that you are stressed. Or you may be so used to experiencing persistent low-level stress that you don’t recognize the overwhelming affect it has on you. Once you recognize stress, you can begin exploring a variety of experiences to quickly relieve it. These include images, sounds, aromas, tastes, movements, and tactile sensations that can immediately help you feel more calm and alert.
Sensory preferences vary; a person who becomes spacey and withdrawn under stress may need an active form of sensory input like stretching, bouncing up and down, or tapping parts of the body. Someone who gets angry and agitated may need something that quiets them down. Quick stress relief is a simple idea, but it takes daily practice for a while and some talk about what you’re learning before becoming a resource you can count on and use to develop the second core skill, emotional awareness.
To find out more about the great variety of sensory options available for exploration, read the article on quick stress relief that’s in this toolkit.
(Step 3) Developing Emotional Awareness
The second core skill is emotional awareness: the ability to remain aware of your moment-to-moment, ever-changing emotional experience, and the capacity to appropriately manage this experience. The skill that enables you to do this is the basis of emotional health, emotional intelligence, and strong fulfilling relationships.
Unfortunately, many people are relatively unacquainted with their emotional experience. Few individuals can easily answer the question, “What are you experiencing emotionally?” Where in the body do you have these feelings? This lack of awareness is a bigger problem than many realize because even emotions we don’t like play life-preserving roles in our lives.
Anger is an emotion with a lot of energy that can be used to save life, as well as destroy it. Anger is energizing and can inspire creative action. Only uncontrolled anger that has turned into rage represents a threat to ourselves and others. Sadness is a call to slow down, stop thinking, and surrender to what you’re experiencing. Sadness asks you to open up, trust, and allow yourself to be vulnerable in order to heal and recover from loss. Fear is a bottom-line emotion, often the cause of chronic anger or depression. Fear isolates us and distances us from others. Yet fear, too, is meant to play a life-supporting role, signaling danger and triggering life-preserving action.
The idea of connecting to your emotions at all times may seem overwhelming, but keep in mind that intense emotions don’t last long; they’re fleeting, coming and going without stop unless you start thinking about them and mentally rehashing your feelings over and over.
(Step 5) Unexpected Rewards
As you bring stress and emotions into balance, you easily tap three related resources that further strengthen and enrich your life. The ability to understand and use non-verbal communication, a greater capacity for experiencing joy, and an ability to resolve conflict in ways that strengthen rather than destroy a relationship.
With stress and emotion in check, you’ll be aware of non-verbal signals that contribute to successful communication. As you develop the capacity to recognize and understand your own emotions, you’ll automatically find it easier to recognize other people’s emotions and read non-verbal cues. Non-verbal cues consist of eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, posture, gesture, touch, intensity, timing, and pace. Non-verbal signals or cues communicate far more to others about what you’re thinking and feeling than your words. You’ll be able to tell when people say one thing but mean another, and it will become easier to understand why people react to you as they do.
Another delightful resource that’s tapped when emotions are no longer feared is the capacity for joy, pleasure, and playfulness. Joy is a deceptively powerful resource. Studies show that you can surmount adversity as long as you continue to have moments of joy. But joyous feeling is numbed when emotions like anger or fear are blocked. You’ll find it easier to laugh, lighten up, and be playful. Life’s imperfections, including your own, will become more amusing and less threatening. Simple pleasures will more easily delight and amuse you, and as you open to the possibility of finding joy in unexpected places, opportunities for smiling, laughing, joking, and playing will appear everywhere, even during conflict.
Moreover, as a result of being able to decipher non-verbal cues, you’ll be able to tell if what you find amusing is equally amusing to another person. Humor in a relationship is a problem when there isn’t shared agreement about what’s funny.
Another reward for learning self-regulation is that conflict with others loses its threatening edge; nobody wants painful upset, but once you know how to remain emotionally present and manage stress, you can avoid over or under reacting in emotionally charged situations.
Using non-verbal communication and humor as tools, you can catch and diffuse many issues before they escalate into conflict.
Sometimes difficult memories get in the way. Frightening or humiliating emotional memories can distort your perception and reason, but when you manage stress and take emotions in stride, you can separate the painful past from what is the present in the here and now. Believe it or not, resolving conflict can improve a relationship and strengthen you bond with that person. When you have the freedom to disagree without the fear of punishment, you create a connection with a very deep level of trust.
(Step 5) It's Up To You
Unimagined possibilities for reinventing ourselves are at hand. Because of new brain technologies and discoveries, the ability of the brain to renew itself gives us opportunity to repair the past and improve our lives.
Breakthrough knowledge also reveals the critical role self-regulation plays in the development of mental health and emotional intelligence. We see that self-regulation is dependent on learning a non-verbal, emotionally driven set of skills acquired through experience. The toolkit I’ve been describing to you provides this kind of learning.
Emotional health and emotional intelligence won’t come as easily as swallowing a pill. Permanently changing the way you react to stressful experiences takes practice, patience, and commitment. But learning to regulate stress and emotion is within your reach. As you begin practicing the skills in this toolkit, expect setbacks. For a while, new abilities will compete with old habits for your time and attention. Don’t be discouraged. If you persevere, your feelings, thoughts, and behavior will change for the better.
By learning to keep your stress and nervous system in balance, you harness the wisdom and protection of your emotions. Gaining emotional balance will bring you a greater capacity for joy, understanding, creativity, and resiliency. The rewards will impact every part of your life: home, your job, relationships. And as you become calmer, more focused and emotionally aware, you’ll thrive, growing smarter, healthier, and happier.
Remember, it’s never too late to learn the skills that enable you to be emotionally self-aware and emotionally intelligent. Others can help; we need them to encourage and support our learning. But others, including the most skilled and caring, can do only so much. The rest is up to you.