Mindfulness-Based Emotion Regulation
The following emotional regulation practices (also called emotional balance skills) have been supported by over 2500 years of mindfulness training and current psychological research on human emotions. These practices/skills are to be practiced before they are needed, and directly applied when they are needed. Here is the list.
1) Practice noticing and expanding the gap (time/space/energy) between internal emotional impulse and external behavioral activation.
2) Focus on calm, slow, deep breathing when overly aroused emotionally.
3) Be mindfully aware of what (people, places, things, memories, etc.) causes your emotional dysregulation, and experiment with ways to alter your reactions to such triggers. Note that these conditions are impermanent – they arise and that fall away.
4) Maintain a personal journal about regrettable emotional reactions and behaviors. When things improve, also write about that in the journal.
5) In the vipassana tradition, work on recognizing (acute awareness) the initial arising of an emotional reactions in your body (sensations), and experiment with ways to alter or stop the parade of madness.
6) Use compassion to become aware of the other person’s increasing emotional suffering, and act accordingly to reduce it.
7) Use the proprioception of facial nerves to alter emotion in your brain by smiling at fear and anger in you. If the fear is something serious, do what you need to protect yourself.
8) Practice interception skills by becoming more and more aware of sensations in your body that signal emotional reactivity and dysregulation. Take advantage of this early warning system to change your reaction to a more productive response.
9) When you fail to control emotional reactions, do your best to shorten the behavior and verbal activation period. Apologize quickly and sincerely.
10) Understand the cognitive-behavioral model so you can use such information to improve the moment and your reaction.
11) Practice labelling your emotional content via thoughts, words and actions so you may be able to extend cognitive (pre-frontal) control over reactivity.
12) Increase your desire to be free from emotional suffering, which anger and other afflictive emotions simply increase.
13) Read about the Four Noble Truths, and practice daily meditation, yoga, or exercise to be in touch with your brain, mind, and body.
14) Do not willingly invite anger or emotional reactivity into your human space. Find a more productive alternative to practice.
15) Do the 4-Ds: drink water, distract, do something different, and delay your response (thoughts, words, actions).
16) Investigate themes in your emotional reactivity. Isolate the BIG ones, and get help to transform them and your reactions.
17) When experiencing afflictive emotional states, practice opposite action (DBT skill). Try your best to do something in the opposite direction.
18) When feeling emotionally hurt or angry, do your best to LET GO of your hurt ego and self-cherishing and apply a practice or skill immediately.
19) When feeling sorry for yourself or angry about something that is impermanent, practice gratitude review. Thinks of things you have gratitude about. Really concentrate on them.
20) Follow the wise advice of Thich Nhat Hanh, Chogyam Trungpa, and Pema Chodron by holding your anger as if it was a newborn baby. Since it is part of your experience, allow your mind to transform it into something that needs to be taken care of with loving kindness and unconditional love. Know you are suffering! Be kind to yourself and your emotional reaction. Do not act on it.
21) Practice loving kindness meditation for yourself and others on a regular basis.
22) If you are very skilled, practice smiling at your fears and inhaling the pain and suffering from others as you exhale your own loving kindness to others.
For more information refer to The 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) and Ekman, P. (2008). Emotional Awareness: Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance and Compassion. New York: MacMillan Audio Books, CD 6. See also Chodron, P. (2010). Smile at Fear: A Retreat with Pema Chodron. Boston: Shambhala Audio, CDs.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
Author of Mindful Happiness
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