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Resilience and Regulating Emotions

August 17, 2010

‘Losing it’ doesn’t just affect those around you, it affects your well-being.  The ability to regulate one’s emotions  works as a moderator when adjusting to stressful situations – directly affecting your resilience.

The theory, put forth by researchers* at Universty of Denver’s Psychology department, explains that because stressful situations are inherently emotional, the ability to regulate one’s own emotions is vital to coming out of those stressful situations resilient and able to continue with life.

Mind you, emotional regulation does NOT mean suppressing your emotions.

Cognitive emotion regulation has been broadly defined as changing one’s attention to or one’s appraisals of a situation in order to change an emotion’s duration, intensity, or both (Ochsner & Gross, 2005).

How do you achieve this?

  1. Attention Control: filtering the affective information that enters one’s awareness in a stressful situation, the appraisals one makes will be less threatening, in turn leading to less negative emotions.   ( Example:  You are asked to speak to a group of parents at the Parent-Teacher Organization for your school.   You choose to focus on the fact that you were invited to speak, and pay attention to the smiling faces of the parents you know. )
  2. Reappraisal: reframing a situation in order to change its emotional impact.  (Example:  While you are teaching a class, students appear to be bored and innatentive.  You choose to get some feedback from the students in writing to improve future lessons from their perspective, and make it a learning experience.)
  3. Distraction:  finding a neutral activity to distract yourself from the threatening emotion temporarily.  (Example:  you have seen people do this – attending to a household task or doodling while holding a stressful conversation.)

The whole idea here is to lessen the perceived threat, thus taking some of the punch out of your emotional response to the stressful situation.

It takes practice, and yes, guidance.

Dr Wayne Dyer has published a number of books on this subject, one of which is Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life – Living the Wisdom of the Tao.  He is not alone – there are many many books on this topic.  People have been learning and practicing the art of emotion control for centuries, so take your pick of publications.

Take care of yourself – assess your emotional reactions.  This will keep you in the game for the long haul.

*Resilience in the face of stress: Emotion regulation as a protective factor, Allison Troy Caston & Iris B. Mauss, University of Denver

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