Let's look at Life Skill 1 - Managing your Emotions
Managing Emotions will help you to manage your reaction to stressful situations and reduce stress.
This is important because being unable to manage your emotions in stressful situations can have really negative consequences in your life.
It is obvious that our mind and our bodies are connected. What isn’t obvious to everyone is that emotional stress impacts our physical health and well-being.
Managing your emotions stops intense stress reactions from overwhelming you and your system and making your vulnerable to stress related physical and psychological problems.
Why do we need to learn to get the skill of Managing our Emotions?
The first thing you need to know is a bit about the basic structure of our brains and what happens when we are reacting emotionally.
In the New Ways 4 Life course we educate children and young people, and their parents and teachers, about what goes on inside our heads when we are in a stressful situation.
Our brain is made up of two halves. Each half has a different job to do for us.
The bridge between the left and right sides of our brain allows us to make use of both the logical (left) and the creative / protective (right) sides of our brain when we need them.
If the bridge isn’t working properly we can get stuck, usually in the emotional right side, and can’t access our full potential to solve problems and calm ourselves.
The right side of our brains is wonderful and creative. It is also the side of our brain that helps us most when we are threatened by danger and that can have a dark side.
When we are in a really threatening situation we need to react instantly, to come up with a way to be safe and act on it quickly.
This reaction shuts down the logical, problem solving side of our brain because it is slower to think through problems and come up with solutions. If you are really in trouble you don’t have time for that.
You might have heard about this response. It is called the “fight, flight or freeze response”.
It causes us to feel upset and react emotionally. Some people will react aggressively, some will try to run away and others describe what they feel as being “shut down” and unable to think or even move. They freeze.
The second part of this response is to release chemicals in the brain and body that prepare you for the dangerous situation your brain thinks you are in. This shuts down other non-essential parts of the body such as digestion and floods you with chemicals that will help you to react to the threat as best you can.
If this happens too much without there actually being any danger that requires this physical response these changes can harm your body and cause stress related disease.
The problem is that if you are not good at managing your emotions you will get caught up in this brain response frequently, and in even slightly stressful situations you’ll react as if your life was in danger. Examples might be when someone says something that is negative or doesn’t do what you want them to do or you come across any sort of problem that you need to resolve.
Why is it all so intense for young people?
When we are born our brains have not finished growing and developing. We don’t have much control over ourselves and our emotions can be very extreme.
We’ve all seen very young children in the supermarket acting as if their world has come to an end because they can’t have a lolly or toy they want.
In the first few years of your life the basic structure of your brain is developing and your ability to manage your emotions along with it.
If you are living in a family where you are safe, protected and not stressed very much your brain can develop in a balanced way.
If your family understand that when you overreact and throw a tantrum that you are having trouble managing your emotions and help you to learn how to do that you’ll lean the skills you need to manage your emotions. If that was how home life is for every student and every teacher this part of the course wouldn’t be necessary.
Unfortunately in the past people knew much less about the important role that our emotions play in our life.
Parents and teachers were taught to ignore or punish emotional distress. Some may not have developed the skills needed to manage their own emotions and can’t teach the children in their life to develop a skill they don’t have themselves.
That means that they may experience a lot of drama and emotional ups and downs in their own lives and not know that they have the power to manage their emotions.
Some children grow up in an environment where the adults are not able to help them to feel safe. Sometimes the adults who they live with are frightening or unsupportive. That doesn’t just mean physical abuse or neglect, it may also mean emotional or psychological abuse or neglect. The sort of treatment that makes the child feel insecure or unloved.
This lack of adequate care and sense of safety in their home and/or child care environment can trigger the protective response to danger too often.
This affects the way the brain structure develops and makes the bridge between the right and left side of the brain smaller and less easy to use. It also makes the part of the brain that triggers the stress response, the amygdala, bigger and more easily triggered.
These children and young people spend a lot of time with the defensive part of their right brain activated ready to protect themselves.
Our “Right Brain” is creative and intuitive. It pays attention to other people’s emotions and their voices. When you’re feeling really defensive in the right brain, you are energised and it is easier for you to feel intense negative emotions.
Emotions like anger, fear, dread, hurt and hate can be almost overwhelming. While we described these emotions as being negative they have a positive intention to protect us by giving you the power and energy to save your life in a life-and-death situation.
However, most of the time we are not in a life or death situation, so that kind of intense emotion can be inappropriate and actually get us into trouble.
Managing your Emotions when the situation isn’t life threatening
We’ve talked a lot about what can cause us to react in an extreme way when the situation isn’t really that extreme.
The New Ways for Life Program teaches the children and young people doing the program to notice and manage their thoughts so that they don’t get caught up in this emotional roller coaster.
The “Left Brain” seems to have more calmness, contentment and mild emotions associated with it. The goal is to realise that when we are very upset, the right brain defences take over and they shut down our left brain: “Problem Solving.” If you are aware of this going on in your brain then you can actually calm your own upset emotions.
Understanding the TEA Cycle
Often people think that emotions just happen but that is not actually true.
Before we experience an emotion there is some thought in response to some sort of input into our brain.
Sometimes it is something that comes in through one of our senses.
Sometimes it is the result of a memory.
Often it is a combination of both some sort of external trigger combined with a memory that we link with the trigger.
Emotions are normal, and we all have a lot of them.
The goal isn’t to eliminate feelings. Our feelings give us the energy and motivation to take action.
The goal in learning the skill of managed emotions is to understand what we are feeling is the result of what we are thinking and to use our thoughts to make our emotional reactions and behaviour fit the reality of the situation we are in.
We need to think specifically about which feelings to act on and which feelings to set aside.
We need to pay attention to our thoughts and change them if they are making us feel bad for no reason.
If we just act on the feelings, we can often make things much worse.
If we just act on our thoughts (left brain thinking) we can ignore our intuition and protective emotional side of the brain and make things worse.
Instead, we should take our feelings into account and consider including them in how we decide what to do.
Calming yourself and managing your emotions
Calming yourself is a really good way to manage your emotions.
There are a number of simple strategies that even young children or adults can learn that will help them to calm themselves.
Psychologists call this self soothing.
In the New Ways for Life program we show students how to use encouraging statements to change their thinking and consequently feelings about situations so that they can use their problem solving brain as well as their emotional brain.
How do we do that?
Contact Us to find out more about how you can implement the New Ways for Life program in your school or youth group.