This skill is about learning to recognize and experience your emotions. This skill taught me how to notice and describe my feelings, thoughts, actions, and interactions with others.
Seems simple, right? Well, with a mental illness, one’s range of awareness is greatly narrowed to basically what is relevant to your illness. For me, my thoughts, emotions, actions and interactions were strictly limited to things dealing with food. There are 4 useful steps for this skill:
Step 1: Observing a thought and noticing an experience
Choose something to focus on and simply notice the experience. Try and look at it from an outsider. Notice the who, what, when, where and how of the situation. Do not react to the experience.
Remuda taught me to have what they call a “teflon mind”, meaning that you must let some experiences, feelings and thoughts come and go.
It is important to objectively observe thoughts without trying to control or manipulate them. Try seeing things in black and white.
Step 2: Describing an experience (emotion, thought, behavior)
When a feeling or thought comes up, put words to the experience. For example, “my chest feels heavy” or “I think I can’t do this”
Describe to yourself what’s happening and put a name on feelings. Do not get caught up in the content of what you are describing. Stay focused on the facts.
Step 3: Experiencing, identifying and naming emotions
We communicate emotions with facial expressions, body language, voice tone and volume, attitudes, and word choice.
Although one can deny with words things they are experiencing, body language and facial expressions find a way of subconsciously emerging before you can stop them.
Because of this, others may incorrectly interpret our actions; the one way to prevent this is learning how to effectively communicate using words.
Emotions are there for a reason: they are motivating, protective, preparative and rational. Without them, there’d be no interpersonal attachment.
It is important to be conscious of how you’re feeling
- Ask yourself 6 times a day how you are feeling
- In the beginning use basic words (sad, angry, happy, lonely, guilty)
- If you are not sure or do not know, ask yourself how you think someone else might feel in the same situation
- Name a feeling quickly, do not second-guess or over-think
- If you are anxious or angry, what else are you feeling underneath?
- Record your daily emotions for reflection and noting patterns
Step 4: Observing and tolerating your emotions
Observe what you are feeling. If you get overwhelmed, take some deep breaths and regroup. Emotions will raise and lower in intensity, much like a wave. Recognize this and do not be scared if your emotions overwhelm you. Keep an open mind to what you are experiencing, do not get hung up on it to the point where you can not move forward and past it.
Remember, you are not your emotion
- Do not act on your feeling, sit with it
- Do not let your emotions get in the way of wisdom guiding your actions
- Do not judge your emotions
- Accept the reality of the emotion you are experiencing
At Remuda, it was really hard to not judge myself for my emotions. I wanted to get better, so every time I had thoughts about planning to lose weight upon my discharge or complaining about my supplements, I felt guilty about that. Sometimes emotions would come and go so quickly I barely had time to deal with them.
To help recognize our emotions, at the beginning of every group we had to go around and say what three emotions we were feeling at the moment.
In our binders we had a chart for tracking the emotions we felt and their intensity.
Obviously, those two previous things we not really practical upon on my discharge, but using them every day for 45 days helped to prepare me to recognize emotions without thinking about it even. I was able to realize that I felt guilty, sad, happy about certain things and figure out if I needed to change anything from that information.
For any person, it is easy to get overwhelmed with emotions and over-think things. I know that this happens most when I am texting someone. Everyone has a different texting style. Some people use punctuation to help evoke their tone of voice. Other people use smiley faces and emoticons. Other people will use none of those options and when that is the case, I interpret the tone of voice to the worst possible. Whenever I am having those feelings, I have to recognize them, and analyze it. I ask myself, “why would I need to stress over the lack of an exclamation point? I know that I haven’t done anything to merit someone being mad at me.”
Yes, I know that’s a lot easier said than done, but catching your emotions and really looking at them helps a lot. It is easy to just let things pass by you, but being aware of yourself first and working your way out is a wonderful way to feel more secure of your world.