Don’t Cope with Your Troublesome Feelings — Regulate Them
Emotional regulation — learning to control and tolerate emotional distress — is a fundamental part of addiction recovery. A lack of emotional regulation skills is often what contributes to the development of addiction, since addicts turn to substance abuse as a means to cope with difficult feelings.
The good news is that you don’t need drugs and alcohol in order to cope with your difficult and unpleasant feelings. When you learn to practice emotional regulation techniques, you’ll develop the tools to manage and endure emotional distress. What’s more, you’ll begin to build a life in which emotional distress appears less frequently, and plays a much smaller role in your overall state of mind.
Let’s take a look at some important techniques you can use for emotional regulation as you continue on your recovery journey.
1. Remember PLEASE Master to Help You Maintain Health and Stability
One thing you may learn if you ever spend time at a women’s rehabilitation center is that health, happiness and emotional stability don’t just happen. They’re things you have work for to purposely bring into your life. How can you achieve emotional stability?
It helps to remember the acronym PLEASE Master:
- PL — Seek treatment for Physical ILlness
- E — Eat a balanced diet
- A — Avoid alcohol, drugs, or other mood-altering substances, like nicotine and caffeine
- S — Sleep well
- E — Exercise
- Master – Do at least one thing every day that gives you a sense of mastery and control
While there’s a little bit more to emotional regulation than that, remembering to take good care of yourself and give yourself opportunities to feel a sense of control will go a long way towards helping you manage and control emotional distress.
2. Learn to Identify Your Own and Others’ Feelings
If you’re someone who struggles a lot with emotional regulation, it may surprise you to learn that an important part of emotional regulation is learning to identify your own feelings and the feelings of others. Many of us learn in childhood to suppress our emotions, and when we reach adulthood, we have a hard time getting in touch with those feelings.
But suppressed emotions don’t just go away. Oftentimes, they come back in the form of depression, anxiety and anger management problems. Learning to identify others’ emotions is important, too, if you hope to communicate effectively and enjoy healthy relationships.
3. Make a Point of Seeking Positive Experiences
Many people in addiction recovery don’t realize that it’s okay, even necessary, to seek out positive experiences and do things just for fun or because you want to do them. But making room in your life for regular positive experiences is an important part of emotional regulation.
In the short term, it can help you enjoy positive feelings right here and now. In the long term, it can help ensure that pleasant experiences — and the positive feelings that come with them — occur more often in your life, and can make your life more enjoyable overall.
Start by making a list of things you enjoy or positive events you want to experience. They can be as simple as “drink a cup of herbal tea on the balcony” or as complex as “graduate from college.” Once you have your list, get to work. Remember that nurturing relationships is an important part of filling your life with positive moments.
4. Act the Opposite of How You Feel
Strong emotions elicit actions. When you’re afraid of something, you try to flee from it or avoid it. When you’re angry, you lash out. When you’re sad, you pull away from others, cry and mope.
But just as your emotions influence your actions, your actions can influence your emotions. The next time you feel afraid, try approaching the person, place or event that’s scaring you and participating anyway. Soon, you’ll feel confident instead. If you’re angry, try approaching the person or situation in a spirit of kindness and generosity so you can attempt to understand the other’s perspective. If you’re sad, reach out to others instead of pulling away.
A caveat: When emotions are appropriate to what’s going on, the actions they inspire may also be appropriate, too. If you’re afraid because you’re being chased by an escaped lion at the zoo, do not attempt to participate in being eaten.
5. Learn to Let Go of Suffering
There’s an old Zen proverb, “Let go or be dragged.” Learning to let go of suffering is a powerful coping tool. When you experience a powerful emotion, work on identifying it, accepting it, and experiencing it without trying to block it, suppress it, get rid of it, or push it away. Nor should you try to cling to or amplify an emotion. You don’t even have to act on the feeling. Just let it come and then let it go.
You’ll be surprised at how quickly you feel better.
If you’re a woman who’s new to addiction recovery, emotional regulation may seem like an impossible goal. But with a little time and practice, you’ll soon be in control of your emotions, instead of letting them control you.