"Why do I feel this way, and how do I fix it?"
Whether it’s stress from work, a fight in a relationship, or triggering family drama, everyone has their days. How we react to stressors varies by person; and how we relate to our stress determines our outlook on the quality of our lives. Do you find yourself in situations where your emotions feel out of your control? Not sure where to start? Here’s what we’ll cover:
★ Short Term Strategies
★ Long Term Strategies
★ Coping and outlet strategies
How the Brain Works
★ Understand the neurological workings of the brain with anxiety
★ Hormones and their unknown effects with anger
If you are struggling with stress or controlling negative emotions in your life, take a deep breath in through one nostril at a time, called the Kundalini Breathing method, holding one side of your nose closed while the other is open. Notice which side of your nose is harder to breathe through and be gentle with yourself. The point of this is to slow your breathing down. Once you have slowed down, calmed down, and come back to your breath, check out these strategies that will help make your day a little better.
Stay in the present! Anxiety is a “future-oriented” state of mind. Instead of letting your mind reel about what could happen, try to bring yourself back to the present. Ask yourself what is happening right now, and what needs to be done, then make an appointment for it in the future where you can check back in later with a clear mind. That way, you can cut off the roundabout thoughts, and come back to it later when you have had time to recollect.
Fact check your thoughts. When facing anxiety, your mind always wants to jump to the absolute worst-case scenarios, right? It is easy to let your mind run wild but try to stop yourself and think about how realistic these worries actually are in the present. For example, if you are stressing about an upcoming exam or presentation, change your thoughts from, “I’m going to fail,” to “I’m very nervous, but I’ll be prepared.” (5) A slight shift in phrasing in our inner dialogue turns our voice from a critic to a coach, a technique taught in the curriculum Superflex for Occupational Therapists. Granted it’s easier said than done, but practicing the use of a positive inner voice (even if you don’t fully believe it at first) can gradually silence the negative one over time.
Re-label the situation. For example, you are sitting at your desk, and slowly the amount of work, stress, and other obligations are starting to snowball into an unimaginable feat. Your negative thoughts turn from worry about work, to worry about your life. At this point (preferably beforehand) STOP and “re-label” the situation. Recognize that your stress stems from work. Try to rephrase your situation in a brighter light.
Gratitude Attitude. One great way to start this train of thought is writing down your blessings, or things you are thankful for, which can be as simple as a cup of coffee or a roof over your head. Recognize that a bad day is not a bad life.
NOTE: If you’re experiencing a more severe symptom such as a panic attack (racing heart, sweating, chills, trembling, breathing problems, chest/stomach pains, etc.), you can regain control of the situation by saying to yourself that yes it’s a panic attack but, “it is harmless, it is temporary, and there is nothing I need to do.” Panic attacks are a frightening experience but putting your feelings into context helps you stop the spiraling thoughts and regain control. This is your body’s physiological reaction to severe stress or worry. If you are experiencing situations such as this, it may be beneficial to seek help from a mental health professional that can give you the tools you need to tackle severe anxiety.
● Counseling and therapy There are many avenues you could go down to find your right fit. Click here to find a whole list of articles and online consultations at your fingertips.
● Executive Functioning Coaching and Positive Psychology: try a free coaching consultation with Occupational Therapist, Danielle Feerst. Your first 30-minute consultation will be free when booking through her website. She will give tangible strategies to improve overall well-being, not just mental health.
● Another factor to consider in all of this could be your medications. If you are currently taking any medications, talk to your doctor about the potential side effects they could have on your body and mind. Some clients don’t realize that their medications are affecting their daily lives.
It is completely normal to have our fiery moments every now and then. However, anger becomes problematic when it leads to outbursts, aggression, and sometimes even a physical altercation.
Here are some quick tips that can help when you can feel your anger is not functional anymore:
Relax. Breathe deeply, slowly repeat a calm word or phrase such as "calm down," "take it easy." Repeat your word/phrase to yourself while breathing (6).
Process your words before you speak. Take a few moments to recollect your thoughts. Or, walk away!
Communication. Once calm, express the root of your anger. Once thinking clearly, expressing your frustrations in an assertive and non-confrontational way helps for you to relay your message without hurting or controlling others (7).
Practice relaxation skills. When you feel your temper start to bubble up, use relaxation techniques to bring it to a simmer. Find your thing: it could be music, yoga, working out, watching a movie, or something else that brings you peace of mind. Everyone is different, so try different strategies and stick with whatever works best for you.
Know when it’s time to find help. Finding the best way to control anger can be a challenge, and you do not have to do it alone.
Click here to see a list of articles and contacts you can reach at a moment's notice.
How does the brain work in self-regulation?
Feeling overwhelmed, extremely anxious or angry, and unable to shake it? Understand your feelings are real and validate them. But, learn why you feel the way you do. This is the crucial step in taking back control of your emotions, and your life. Educating yourself on how and why your brain works the way it does, is an evidence-based methodology in therapy to help clients regain a sense of control (8).
What is the Cause of Anxiety?
For those who struggle with generalized anxiety, here is what could be happening in your brain. Studies have shown that those who experience higher levels of anxiety, have an unusually responsive sympathetic nervous system (this system is in control of your “fight or flight” response) (4). When you experience anxiety a key neurotransmitter, norepinephrine, is overproduced in the locus coeruleus (a small structure in the brain stem) that is central to the body's “alarm system”, reported by BetterHelp (a medically reviewed article by Maria Abada, LPC) earlier this month. Overproduction of this has shown to greatly increase the chances of a panic attack. It is important to note that infrequent panic attacks are not unheard of; they affect 30% of adults throughout their life (9).
Genetic factors play an important role in the development of anxiety as well: It is eight times more likely for one to develop tendencies of panic and anxiety if an immediate biological relative also exhibits similar behaviors and tendencies (9).
What causes anger?
Hormones affect levels of aggression. Testosterone is largely responsible for affecting aggressive behaviors, which is why there is a correlation of higher levels of aggression and violence among males (10). However, surprisingly, the correlation of testosterone and aggression is not limited to males; women have smaller levels of it in their bodies, they are more sensitive to changes in these levels than compared to men. If you are familiar with serotonin it also has a major influence as well on your emotions, even anger (10). The part of your brain that regulates perception and reaction to aggression and fear is the amygdala. It helps us understand and feel emotions such as fear and anger, and also helps us learn from situations that led to fear and how we avoid or react to similar situations in the future (10). This is the mammalian brain, and when it is overactive we are in a state of fight or flight more frequently, in situations that may not be harmful or endanger us.
iElevate covers social and life issues, if you or someone you love is dealing with a mental health crisis please contact a mental health professional or call 911.
Written by Caroline Campione, Fall 2020 Intern
1) Sage Journals: Emotional Intelligence. 2020. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/
2) Science Direct: The Intelligence of Emotional Intelligence. 1993. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0160289693900103?casa_token=juZrsuHN
3) Psychology Today: Emotional Intelligence. 2020. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/emotional-intelligence
4) Better Help: How to Tell if You Have Anxiety. 2020. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/anxiety/how-to-tell-if-you-have-anxiety-10-signs-and-symptoms/?network
5) WEB MD: How To Stop Feeling Anxious Right Now. 2020. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/ways-to-reduce-anxiety
6) American Psychological Association: Controlling Anger Before it Controls You. 2020. https://www.apa.org/topics/anger/control
7) Mayo Clinic: Anger Management. 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/anger-management/art-20045434
8) Psychoeducation as Evidence-Based Practice: Considerations for Practice, Research, and Policy. 2004. http://www.easacommunity.org/files/Psychoeducation_as_Evidence-Based_Practice.pdf
9) Abnormal Psychology. 2012. Second Edition. Robin S. Rosenberg
10) Libraries: The Biological and Emotional Causes of Aggression. 2000.https://open.lib.umn.edu/socialpsychology/chapter/10-2-the-biological-and-emotional-causes-of-aggression