4 EMOTION REGULATION
Be Mindful is an 8-week program to help students cope with test anxiety.
We have probably just arrived at the most intriguing destination on Mindfulness journeys, at least, it certainly was the case for me. Once we have mindful routines and habits, the big question is
how can I not let myself get carried away by «mindlessness» emotions that will have unwanted side effects
To me this was the «riddle-wrapped-in-a-mystery-inside-an-enigma». So in this entry I am sharing this interview to Psychologist Paul Ekman (which I hope will help) explaining the process of emotions, how to grow more aware of them and how to ACT instead of REAct or OVERreact as it usually is the case, when we are overtaken by anger, rage, love or fear, for instance, and are pretty much oblivious of the consequences.
To expand the gap between STIMULUS and RESPONSE we need to bring awareness through Observation and Practice, which we can do with the help of Mindfulness exercises. The more aware we become of our thoughts, feelings and emotions, the more capable we will be of consciously deciding what to do.
I am sharing this Emotion and Feeling wheel, which we can come back to every time we have a feeling or an emotion we cannot quite name. Or even more so, when we become aware of our reply «good» or «bad» to the question «how does that make you feel?». Good and Bad can certainly be explained further and will give us (and others) more specific information about an issue that will help clarify, unwind and break habit loops. By identifying the emotion we can try and stop the stream that usually follows by choosing a different path, sometimes retrieving from «the fire» others bringing in alternatives or simply remaining quiet doing nothing.
This is not an easy task, believe you me, I have reacted instead of «consciously acting» many times even after years of awareness practices. It is a long term trip with valuable benefits that comes with good doses of compassion as we will study in the Loving kindness session. And I would like to say now that it is worth the effort and will help you arrive in that place where you actually want to be. Slowly and surely. So all of the above applied in the context of a stressful situation as it could be «To make a speech in front of a board of examiners» makes sense when we can feel the emotion arriving as waves coming to the shore, and before that emotion takes over, we can SEE it – BREATHE it – MANAGE it.
Because we have gradually become more aware of how feelings and emotions reflect in our body (see attention regulation) we may realise in a split second that stress has suddenly become our guest when we were just peacefully sitting there before the examiners right about to begin to talk. The big difference now is that we have become more aware of ourselves after regular mindfulness practices and we can acknowledge the feeling, embrace it and accept that this guest will be here with me for a little while until my whole organ system resets through breathing (maybe I need to go let my eyes out of focus for a little while, drink some water, apply some colour to this bit or let the breeze in through that window). The fact is that just by opening up a space and welcoming this «unexpected» guest by acknowledging it and embracing it, we are already on the move as opposed to getting paralyzed by restlessness. We have practised the «focusing on the air we breathe in – and out – redirecting when lost in thought streams» technique quite a few times before. So we will do it one more time, and we will go through the uncomfortable visit of this «guest» then out and back into focus. All we need is to trust the process and breathe.
I wish emotional intelligence had been a subject at my school
None of these emotional intelligence «secrets» had been heard of when my teaching career began back in 1993. Never mind when I was a student myself! I wish emotional intelligence had been a subject at my school. We didn’t use to have the tools that we have today to help all those brilliantly outstanding students who, very sadly, never showed up in the last minute, because of utmost stress (1) to give a speech (2) in public (3) in a foreign language (4) before three examiners in those days. The stories have been absolutely bizarre sometimes… from students (adults) on valium for the speaking test to sudden fainting in the rooms. I will never forget the case of this civil guard who put Me on guard actually when I noticed how the shakes, the sweat and the stress had taken over and sadly failed to complete the speaking task. Amazingly enough the same person that «gave me fright» that afternoon when they first turned up in the classroom officially dressed in this rather intimidating uniform.
So let’s keep moving and breathing. Let’s welcome those signs of stress in our body and breathe, then slowly and gently consciously re-direct and focus on what brought me here today: to deliver a monologue in foreign language before these examiners. And as I have all my notes here in front of me I can manage to speak out the phrase that I have practiced, practiced, practised a million times before: «I am going to talk about» or «My monologue is about» or «I would like to begin by saying that». Once we are on the move the words will flow at their own pace. Perhaps a little unsteadily at first but most probably fluently once the wheels are in motion and the ideas noted on your paper are being put through. And remember that every time an episode of stress comes back to the examination set, I know I can follow the same procedure over and over again until I get through to the end of the task, which is in fact only three minutes.
Acceptance of what we feel helps reduce stress. Awareness minimizes impulsivity increasing self-regulation