Can your heart lead you astray when overwhelmed by intense emotion? Perhaps. It may not be a good idea to follow your heart if it means following it blindly while the logical part of your brain is shut down. When you enter an emotional hurricane where intense emotions totally take over, the logical part of your brain shuts down and all reasoning, common sense, and problem solving go out the window.
The optimal state of mind is wise mind. When we are in wise mind we can experience emotion and still retain our reasoning. In wise mind, we feel our anger, our joy, our sorrow, our love, our fear and still make rational decisions- decisions that we do not live to regret.
When our anger turns to rage, our fear turns to panic, our joy turns to euphoria, our love turns to obsession, or any other emotion hits the extreme, we mentally shut down and act off of our pure emotion. We are no longer in wise mind. We are in our extreme emotional mind. Hurricane __________ (add your name) has arrived. This is when we do things we later regret.
So if we know that wise mind is the place to be, how do we stop ourselves from entering cyclone territory? Marsha Linehan, founder of dialectical behavior therapy, came up with evidence based skills that help keep us in wise mind. The skills were not created to be read and forgotten. They were created to be practiced and practiced and practiced until they become habitual. If you have been reacting to the world in a certain way for twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years- you cannot expect your reaction to consistently change overnight. It takes practice.
Below I have listed practices that will help keep you in wise mind or will help get you back into wise mind before emotions hit the intensity of a hurricane.
- Be Aware of Your Emotional Vulnerability- Remember the acronym HALTS. When you are Hungry or Hurried, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or Sick, you are more vulnerable to things that may trigger a hurricane. Just knowing this can help. Tell yourself, I have already been feeling out of sorts today, so I know that I may have a tendency to blow things out of proportion. Maybe I need to let this slide. Take care of yourself to prevent emotional vulnerability. Eat small meals throughout the day, give yourself plenty of time to get somewhere, try to get enough sleep, keep your doctor’s appointments, and find an adequate support system.
- Practice Opposite to Emotion Action- This means that you will do the opposite of what you feel like doing if you know it is in your best interest. I FEEL like hitting him, so I will walk away. I FEEL like yelling and screaming, so I will lower my voice. I FEEL like isolating myself due to my depression, so I will find support. I FEEL like harming myself, so I will tell someone immediately. I FEEL like punching the wall, so I will count to ten and breathe.
- Distract Yourself- After a brief distraction, your logic will return. As mentioned above, breathe or count to ten. You may need to count to fifty. Give yourself a two-minute time out. Go for a walk, say the ABCs, count tiles on the wall. Anything that puts time in between an upsetting event and your reaction, may give your brain time to shift back into wise mind. You are usually better off if logic plays a part in your reaction. Give yourself time to think before you act.
- Use Your Teflon Mind- Teflon mind is a dialectical behavior therapy term. It means to let things slip off of you just as an egg slips off of a teflon pan. You do not have to attach yourself to the problems of others. For example, a driver on the highway makes a rude hand gesture at you for no apparent reason. You were having a good day. What is his problem? By using a teflon mind, you continue to have a good day. The other driver can keep his problem- it doesn’t belong to you. You do not have to let it become your problem. Let it slip off. You don’t have to let it attach to you.
- Create a Distress Tolerance Box- Create a box or bag with things that inspire you- things that make you feel good. Try to appeal to your different senses. Music, cards, pictures, affirmations, candles, candy, poetry…. Go to your box when feeling down.
- Build Mastery- Setting and accomplishing goals helps keep you out of the hurricane. It gives you a feeling of accomplishment.
- Daily Meditation and prayer- During meditation, think of something calming and pleasant. Pray and ask for help.
- Practice Mindfulness- Focus on the here and now. Where are you? What are you wearing? How are you feeling? (Don’t judge) What is happening around you right now?- not yesterday, not tomorrow.
- Don’t Judge Feelings- Your feelings and your actions are two separate things. It is okay to feel angry. It is not okay to destroy the house. Observe your feelings without labeling them as good or bad. They just are.
- Avoid Making Assumptions- Look at the facts only. Differentiate facts from assumptions. Many times our emotional reactions have more to do with our assumptions than the reality of the situation.
- Surf the Urge- Ride the wave of emotion without reacting. As you surf the urge without reacting, remind yourself - This, too, shall pass.
Remember that emotions make us human. We can experience our feelings and make rational decisions all at the same time. We can follow our heart. We just need to make sure that we are in wise mind and that our logical mind agrees.
* If you are unable to get yourself out of extreme emotional mind, or you have thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, please consult your physician immediately.