13. Emotion regulation
I thought I'd expand upon the emotional element of our practice, and what we can learn from it. Emotions are tricky nuggets – some emotions we may notice we want to keep a tight hold of – especially right now, like joy, love, peace. Paradoxically when we do – the mere act of grasping or clinging to these emotions – all they do is bring us pain! Try holding onto feeling happy, or calm, you inevitably ruin the moment with those well-trained thoughts like 'make the most of it, it won't last, MUST hold onto this really tightly – as you clench your fists and jaw in defiance' – how well does that go?
Conversely some emotions cause us utter mischief by compelling us to behaviours that do us no favours either – feelings of fear may actually illicit poor social behaviours for example feeling fearful of overwhelm – we snap at the little folk, get in a huff with our loved ones, or administer the grumps to work colleagues. All natural, understandable, but also something we can tune into, get savvier with and deepen that inner wisdom we are often looking to call upon.
Psychologist Paul Gilbert developed a framework for understanding emotions, he put them into three categories or zones (Threat, Drive, Contentment).
These zones have both their positives and negatives - for example the threat system is great for keeping us safe (noticing if we've set fire to the tea-towel a-la John Torode!) but the modern world sees us living with too much threat and stress, and this impacts on our immune system and our resilience levels, so we need to adjust to spending more time in the contentment zone. To understand these zones a little better, please see the attached.
Our challenge therefore is to notice the emotion system we are operating from, to see if we need to adjust a little to bring balance.
Mindfulness sits in the middle of these systems and we can choose to pull back from one, dip into the other, notice the flipsides. Remember each area is neither good/bad but if we are out of balance and operating more from the red or blue zone then it’s recognising that this might impact on the quality of our decisions and our judgements and distorting that lens through which we view life.
Today's practice – reflect and capture in your journal what system you feel you've operated in mostly?
• How did that feel – consider what physical sensations were present?
• What emotions were driving you particularly?
• What can you do to bring you more balance?
And do the body-scan - I've reattached so you can find with ease.
Go kindly, it's an unhinged, painful time, but there are always things we can find to be positive or grateful for – they may be small, and you may have to look hard to find them but they are always there.