Let me tell you a secret. We cannot control or control our emotions. Of course, we can learn to deal with them in a healthy way.
So in this article I share with you 3 keys to healthy and effective emotional management, based on neuroscience trials.
What is the point of learning to manage your emotions?
Knowing how to manage one’s emotions brings multiple benefits to the person:
- Create and maintain interpersonal relationships of trust and appreciation.
Speak clearly and forcefully.
- Be able to develop with ease in pressure situations.
- Maintain mental clarity in times of change and difficulty.
The keys to effective management of emotions
The steps I will share with you are part of the Mindfulness Stress Reduction and Emotional Management program at the University of Massachusetts (MBSR in English). They are not complex. But they require training to be effective.
1. Identify the emotion
The first step is to identify the emotion you are feeling. Every emotion has its somatic expression. Changes in breathing, heart rate, muscle tension associated with each emotion occur in thousands of seconds. The first signs are subtle, barely noticeable, but they develop quickly.
If we are able to perceive these signals at the beginning, we have done half the job. The problem is that As a rule, we are aware of the emotion when it is already very advanced. It is therefore very difficult to manage it.
There is an area of the brain that could help us with this task. The insula is the area of self-awareness in the brain. Insula receives and sends signals to the heart, lungs, colon, stomach, intestines, sexual organs, liver. If there is fear and you realize how fast your heart beats, it is thanks to the island. Activation in this area is associated not only with physical sensations, but also with emotional self-awareness.
Mindfulness training helps improve island connectivity and strength. And in turn, this helps to detect emotional states more easily.
2. Name the emotion
The second step would be to name the emotion, even mentally. Acknowledging your own condition and putting it into words reduces distressing emotions. According to the tests carried out, this simple trick (affect labeling) is able to modify the activity of the amygdala (the area of the brain responsible for emotional display), decreasing emotional reactivity.
This process is possible thanks to the intervention of the prefrontal cortex. For this to happen, it is important to have good connectivity between this area and the amygdala.
Mindfulness training has been shown to be effective in improving the connection between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex as part of the MBSR mindfulness program. Moreover, Mindfulness ability is directly associated with better emotional regulation by the prefrontal cortex through affective labeling technique.
3. Regulate emotion
The third step would be to regulate the emotion. According to Jill Bolte Taylor, a physician who specializes in the 90-second rule in neuroanatomy, we only need 90 seconds to identify the emotion and let it pass. If after this time we continue to experience emotion, that is why we feed it with our thoughts and interpretations..
Emotion is born in the body and must be lived in the body to the end. The process of regulating emotions is not a mental process, but rather an experiential and somatic process. In this process, attention is focused on the somatic manifestations of emotion with a number of qualities of mindfulness, openness, kindness, non-judgment, acceptance and curiosity. The sensation is perceived as it is. At no time is there any intention to change the emotion or make it different.
Learning to manage your emotions is a skill that can bring multiple benefits in everyone’s life. It is a gradual and experiential process. In our center mindfulme In Barcelona we explore in more detail the process of emotional regulation within the MBSR program that we offer, and we also recommend learning little by little, starting with less intense events and stimuli and with the support of the experienced facilitator.
- Mindfulness training induces structural connectome changes in insula networks. Sharp P, et al, Scientific Reports 8(1), 2018.
- Putting feelings into words: Affective labeling disrupts the activity of the amygdala in response to affective stimuli. Matthew D. Lieberman, Naomi I. Eisenberger, Molly J. Crockett, Sabrina M. Tom, Jennifer H. Pfeifer, and Baldwin M. Way. Psychological Sciences 2007; 18 (5): 421-428.
- Subjective responses to emotional stimuli during labeling, reappraisal, and distraction. Matthew D. Lieberman, Tristen K. Inagaki, Golnaz Tabibnia, and Molly J. Crockett. Emotion 2011; 11 (3): 468-480.
- Neural correlates of dispositional mindfulness during emotion labeling. J. David Creswell, Baldwin M. Way, Naomi I. Eisenberger, and Matthew D. Lieberman. Psychosomatic Medicine 2007; 69 (6): 560-565.