I often have clients who struggle with taking care of their emotional well-being at work. When it comes to addressing intense thought patterns and emotions – we can learn how to manage these feelings. The following is a road map that I use with clients who are learning to navigate emotional regulation. Like any skill, this process takes practice so if it doesn’t come easily, know that it can take time!
The first step is to notice & observe the thought and the accompanying emotion that is coming up for you. For example, many of my clients have a “I am not good enough” or “what is wrong with me?” story that runs through their head on repeat whenever they are triggered at work
The goal is to recognize the thought and feeling in the moment. Negative feedback loops are automatic and that’s when the fight or flight threat system is activated. If you can notice the thought and feeling (almost like a fly on the wall) without judging – that’s success to me! This can sometimes be enough for people.
Once you can observe your thoughts and feelings, you want to be able to label the experience with words or an image. For example, you may talk to yourself and say, “Here is the ‘not good enough’ story” or the “dark cloud feeling” or “this is frustration”. Labelling it clearly can help externalize the experience and provide a sense of control between you and the discomfort, so you’re not over-identifying with it or overwhelmed by it.
Allow it to be. Can you accept this uncomfortable experience? Allowing it to be rather than pushing it down or numbing it can help otherwise, it may persist like that annoying itch that keeps coming back. Being curious about the anxiety/sadness/anger rather than judging it, is worth practising. In other words, you may want to ask yourself if this thought or feeling is your brain trying to protect you? Allowing doesn’t mean sit down and have lunch with your anxiety or don’t do anything to help yourself; it means practising self-compassion and accepting the thought & feeling in that moment rather than judging yourself for it.
What is the emotion indicating that you need? Our feelings (like anxiety or sadness) are messengers that let us know that a need is being fulfilled or not fulfilled. For example, joy may be a sign that your need to belong is fulfilled. Whereas sadness or anger may be telling you that you need to set boundaries or connect more with others. What do you need? Validation? Reassurance? Sleep? Another perspective? You may need to talk to a therapist for help with this part.
What action do you need to take to fulfil that need? Talk to a friend? Make an appointment at the bank to talk about your finances? Maybe it’s regular exercise?
As a therapist who practises Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, this is one way of developing emotional awareness without self-judgement. If you’re curious about processing some difficult emotions or want to learn skills related to emotional regulation, reach out to one of our counsellors for a free consultation.