One phonecall. Eight emotions. And how I made my way through its aftermath without butter popcorn.
By Natasha Files | Twitter: @natashafiles
“We are over a thousand kilometres apart and your news still managed to punch me in the face,” I thought. I hung up the phone and snuggled deeper into the couch. I knew that conversation was a moment I’ll remember forever. I couldn’t help but want to throw my phone across the room.
I hate when people tell me things that painfully disintegrate my definition of reality. My emotions said I wanted to cry or scream (and maybe eat a bunch of buttery popcorn).
Moments like this are where I used to self-destruct, but now I’m somewhat able to step back before charging into chaos. Instead of slipping into “fix-it” mode, I try to make sense of the discomfort that is forming in my stomach.
I am not only reacting to the news of a loved one being ill, but am also reacting to my thoughts about that news: everything seems to be in layers. Recent training in DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) has taught me I have eight primary emotions that mix together to make up all emotions: anger, sorrow, joy, fear, disgust, guilt/shame, interest, surprise. An emotional reaction to a primary emotion is called a secondary emotion. For example: feeling shame when I get angry. Primary emotion: anger. Secondary emotion: shame.
Not wanting to be a hypocrite who tells my clients to always use their skills, then neglects to use them myself, I tried to identify the emotional mess that is my heart. My first reaction on that phone call was fear: I am afraid that someone I love is sick and hate that I can’t directly control the outcome of their condition. Another big emotion was anger. To be honest, I am angry about the whole situation.
Chain of Emotions
Taking a step back I was able to identify the chain of emotions and urges that seemed to be tightly intertwined. Anger and fear transformed into nervousness, then disappointment, exhaustion and annoyance. My initial urge was to sleep (I can be a great avoider when I allow myself), but decided it was best to get more information instead of just ruminating assumptions and “what ifs.” As I processed through the situation I learned that things aren’t as disastrous as I had initially interpreted and also discovered the best way for me to be helpful despite being geographically so far away.
Here is a little formula of how I broke everything down:
1) Paused, took a deep breath and stepped back from the situation
2) Identified the prompting event: the phone call
3) Described how the situation made me feel (emotionally and physically)
– Primary emotions: fear and anger
– Secondary emotions: nervousness, disappointment, exhaustion, annoyance
– Physical sensation: emotionally flooded, upset stomach
4) Recognized my urges: to eat and sleep
5) I acknowledged my urges, but chose to cope in healthy ways: clarify some of the information, positive self-talk (remember about being your very own cheerleader?!) and call a friend to chat
Emotions aren’t bad and they can be very helpful in identifying how things are going for us. The trick is being able to identify emotions without acting in emotion-driven behaviours and giving into unhelpful urges. I like to remind myself that emotions don’t last forever and are not the truth; when I am emotional I observe the emotions, acknowledge my fragile state and choose to engage in a healthy coping activity.
DBT talks about engaging in “pleasant events” when under emotional strain in order to minimize the emotional intensity. Some of the things I find helpful are: journaling, exercising (sometimes I like to stroll and other times I run), praying, talking to a friend, sleeping (sleep can be a healthy distraction, but I am careful not to interfere with my night sleep schedule), watching a funny movie, colouring, playing with play dough (yes, I actually do this) and baking.
I’m curious to know about what helps you?
1. What are some of the pleasant events that help you regulate your emotions?
2. What is your favourite funny movie or tv show?
Natasha Files is Case Manager with a Mental Health and Addictions Team. She has experience working with youth and adults struggling with a variety of life-controlling issues and she specializes in eating disorders. Natasha’s passion for mental wellness began when she personally experienced the impact of a genuinely caring professional. That passion is paired with a love of espresso, only to be overshadowed by her desire to see women set free from life-controlling issues.