Anxiety. Depression. Like sneaky little bandits, these self-defeating emotions creep in and rob you of your joy, stealing not only your happiness, but also your soul. Trying to recover from these feelings is as hard as the blow that takes you down. But down is not where we were meant to stay. Hence an emotion regulation strategy.
Your options on how to deal with anxiety and depression boil down to give in or get control. My friend, I won’t let you give in. Heck no! We are tough. We are enough. We do not need to wallow in self-defeat. But when you take a hard, quick punch straight to the chest that leaves your heart aching and your head swirling, the long-term tactics of getting back on your feet will need to be amped up to help you save face.
How do I know this? I recently experienced a hit to my self-esteem that put me in a really ugly place.
Hubby and I were enjoying a weekend with friends when it happened to me. It was a weekend we look forward to every year… tailgating with hubby’s college friends, watching the game, hanging out, reconnecting. But this year’s weekend took a different turn for me. I was completely blind-sided to an anxiety trigger that didn’t just shake me, it knocked me down. Hard.
I won’t go into personal details. But I will share that I wasn’t in a place where I was expecting to be just shy of a public panic attack. I didn’t have an emotion regulation strategy.
So, what did I do? I hid out in the porta potty for as long as humanly acceptable for a person to be sitting over a hole of human waste. And I cried.
I just wanted to be alone. I wanted to ugly cry without anyone seeing or hearing me. I wanted to go for a walk and get things right in my heart and mind, but too many cocktails and lack of locational knowledge prohibited that.
So, I tried to pull my composure together and rejoin our group, but sitting in my camp chair, staring at the football game playing on the large screen in front of me, all I could do was sit and cry quietly.
I didn’t get my alone time until much later. At that point, I was so low that my self-talk was nothing but self-sabotaging that was so disturbing it shocked my overhearing husband.
All this because one comment was made. One overly sensitive trigger was hit. Like it or not, sometimes this happens. We have those “how humiliating” moments where emotion exceeds our ability to take control. But having an “emergency” emotion regulation strategy is critical to picking yourself up before anxiety and depression press you to the mat.
Developing an Emotion Regulation Strategy
Allow yourself some time to process what just happened. Take a moment to yourself. Close your eyes. Breath.
Identify what just happened to prompt your feelings of anxiety or depression. Did the trigger stem from a comment, a situational setting, or a buildup of stress?
Name the emotion you are experiencing. “I am hurt. I am sad. I am feeling unloved.” Just understanding the feeling helps you work through the feeling.
Reframe how you think about the emotional situation with the positive, cognitive emotion regulation strategy called reappraisal.
Because of reappraisal’s flexibility and because it “transforms the whole emotion, rather than just one piece of it,” Psychology Today claims that reappraisal strategies allow people to “reframe stressful situations by reinterpreting the meaning of negative emotional stimuli. They deal with challenging situations by taking a proactive role in restoring their moods and in adopting more positive attitudes.”
For instance, if a comment triggered your emotional response ask yourself…
Did you interpret the comment correctly? Was the comment generalized or specifically directed at you? Did the statement contain truth?
If a situational setting sparked anxious or depressed thoughts…
What about your setting triggered your anxiety? Define it. Could the situation be avoided? If not, what could you do to make the situation better for yourself?
ALTER or ACCEPT.
Try altering your behavioral and physiological response or accept the emotion.
You can think of altering your response like Newton’s Third Law of Motion, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In other words, if you’re fearful or sad, try smiling. (Sounds crazy, I know. But what can it hurt?) Or if you’re initial response is retaliation, try a mindful approach.
Otherwise, go for emotional acceptance. In other words, perceive that the emotion exists, but don’t do anything about it. Do not confuse this with suppression. You’re not pretending the emotion isn’t there. You’re just accepting that it is there but refusing to act on it.
Psychology Today considers emotional acceptance “one of the core processes of mindfulness, which involves a number of different psychological processes. One of them is aware of your emotional and psychological states, and the other one is non-reactance or acceptance, which could also be thought of as the absence of emotion regulation. That might seem contradictory at first glance, but perhaps it’s the combination of both that you really want: a stance of emotional acceptance — acknowledging your emotions and not being threatened by them — and the knowledge that you can, if you want to, cognitively transform them.”
Take care of you. Speak truth to yourself. No self-sabotaging. Speak affirmations and words of life to yourself.
I understand that when you’re feeling down on yourself that it is hard to speak well about yourself. So find a friend that understands you and can help you walk through this process and remind you of what an amazing person you are.
A good way to think of these steps is P.R.A.Y.
Of course, praying itself is a really good strategy. Prayer changes things. It may not change the situation, but it may change the way you look at it, the way you respond to it, and how you feel about it. Prayer reminds you that you’re not alone. That you don’t have to take on the world by yourself… you have a bigger power on your side fighting your battles for you and loving you every step of the way.
I must admit that had I used the P.R.AY. strategy, my weekend would have turned out differently. Instead of feeling wounded and hurt, reframing the situation would have allowed me to put it in proper perspective and move towards positivity or making amends. Rather than beating myself up, I could have offered myself up to work on my shortcomings.
Friends, anxiety and depression absolutely suck! There’s no way around it. But you don’t have to be its punching bag. Even when it tries to throw a surprising right hook, you have the ability to dodge it and stay standing tall.
What strategy do you use for emotion regulation to keep anxiety or depression from taking you down? Please share in the comments below.