In this  journey to cultivate kind minds we are entering into new territory: emotion regulation, one of the 6 ingredients to help cultivate more ease and kindness in your life. 

Emotion regulation is all about balance.

It’s the ability to manage the whole kit and caboodle of human emotions. It is a necessary and beautiful life skill that fosters social and emotional intelligence, enriches relationships, and results in overall well-being and resilience.  

Consider these questions:

  • Can I find my center even if my emotions are triggered and my thoughts are scattered or scary? 
  • How can I walk in another person’s shoes and not be overcome by emotions?
  • Can I find comfort and support when I need them? 

You might wonder: Where  do you even begin when it comes to handling emotions?  

One very good place to start is to name them.  In the field of psychology or psychotherapy we call this “Name it to tame it.” 

This is fitting because we aren’t trying to get rid of emotions, we are simply trying to handle them with some finesse.

The process of labeling your emotions calls on the higher-order language networks in the brain, and has a calming effect.

Today’s Skill

The skill this week is to expand your Emotion Vocabulary. 

When you practice turning feeling states into words, you develop a vocabulary for them, which expands your awareness of emotions—both your own and others’. 

Feeling and understanding others’ experiences begins with feeling and understanding your own.

And, if you are an emotionally sensitive person, like I can be—and worry that you feel too much or can’t deflect the feelings of others—I hear you. Part of emotion regulation is in fact NOT taking on the feelings of others. 

Rather, it is naming your reactions with some emotional distance and physical grounding. 

One of my favorite meditation teachers, Jack Kornfield, has a lovely practice  of  inviting the Feeling to have a cup of  tea:  

He likes to bow toward it and say,  “Anger, I see you.”

You can even wonder aloud about this Anger: 

  • “What do you have to teach me?” 
  • “What do you need from me?”

Often what is needed might be an experience of:

  • accepting the difficult emotion, 
  • noticing the natural tendency to resist it, 
  • learning to tolerate the discomfort,
  • allowing the feeling state to ride itself out. 
    • Some say that the lifespan of an emotion in the brain is 60-90 seconds. That’s it.  It’s just that we attach stories to the emotion, so it keeps recycling itself. (We tend to ruminate.)
  • Perhaps what the Feeling part needs is your compassion. Just like when those two athletes gave one another a helping hand during the 800 meter semi-final in Japan and crossed the finish line together. Can you befriend yourself in the same way?

During the next week identify a situation that evoked a feeling state—pleasant or unpleasant. 

Write down your feelings in your journal. Stretch your vocabulary to capture exactly how you felt using a feelings word list. Go beyond the typical overarching expressions I often hear, like anger, anxiety, or overwhelm. Drill down a bit.

If there’s a subtlety that isn’t captured in any list, go online for mood lists, use sentences or word combinations, or invent a word. You can check out one feelings list from my book, The Kindness Cure.

Just be curious. Note any surprises or patterns that arise during the week.  Use the grounding, breathing and loving-kindness practices shared in previous episodes.  

And don’t worry, I’ve got your back.

This episode’s reflection is: I allow myself to experience the range of human emotions knowing each will pass as I honor, release, and learn from them.

References cited in Episode 9 include:

  • One study on people’s written responses to all kinds of triggering video clips identified over 25 distinct emotions