Emotional Awareness

This video helps you increase your understanding and awareness of your emotions. You’ll learn why we have emotions and how we experience them.  You’ll also learn how to slow your brain down enough to notice an emotion as you’re having it, figure out what the emotion is telling you to do (or not do), and make an informed decision about how you want to respond to it.    

Why do we have emotions?

Not just thunderbolts that zap us for no reason; instead, serve 3 important functions

  1. Give us useful information (ex: fear tells us that something may be a threat
  2. Motivate us to engage in action that promotes survival (ex: anger motivates us to fight; fear motivates us to fight, flee or freeze)
  3. Communicate our needs to others

Natural course of an emotion

Every emotion follows a natural course, and this course is the same for all emotions. If you let yourself experience an emotion (instead of trying to block, suppress, or hang on to it), it will eventually run its course and pass – without you doing anything at all. This is true of all emotions, even those that we experience as unpleasant. “What goes up must come down.”

Sometimes the things we do to cope with an emotion actually keep us stuck in it for longer. For example:

  • Trying to push it away, stuff it, or otherwise avoid it: increases its intensity, makes it build up until it bursts through and wipes you out
  • Judging it (or yourself for having it) as good/bad, right/wrong, fair/unfair: increases the intensity of the emotion, produces additional layers of emotional distress
  • Trying to talk yourself out of it--doesn’t work for several reasons:

When you’re caught in the throes of intense emotion, you don’t have access to the rational part of your brain (the brain“flips its lid”). You’re having the emotion for a reason, though there may be a mismatch between the emotion (or its intensity) and the situation that’s triggering it. Telling yourself to stop having an emotion you’re already having is like telling yourself to stop feeling hot during a heatwave.

There are things you can do to get through periods of intense emotional distress without making things worse, and things you can do to make yourself less vulnerable to intense emotional distress in the first place. 

There are also things you can do to build awareness of your emotions as you’re having them, step back from them a little, and make informed choices about how to respond to them in real-time.

What is Emotional Awareness?

Using mindfulness to NOTICE your emotion as you’re having it and SLOW DOWN your response to it, so you have more control over how you RESPOND to it.

Teaches you to STOP before you act on the emotion, CONSIDER your options, then ACT when you’ve thought it through.

When to use Emotional Awareness? 

In any or all emotion-provoking situations where you want to make an informed decision about how to respond to the emotion

Why does Emotional Awareness work?

  • Allows for the suspension of learned behavioral responses and internalized beliefs (because you slow down, observe, and don’t react right away)
  • Allows you to consider the pros/cons of acting on your initial urge, doing something else instead, or just “riding out the wave”

What skills do I need?

  • An internal “Stop” (or “Pause”) Button
  • Basic Mindfulness skills: ability to observe & describe your experience without judgment (MF).  See Mindfulness Handout (go over)

How to use Emotional Awareness, step by step

  1. NOTICE that you’re experiencing an emotion. How to tell?  Pay attention to the physical sensations you’re having in your body.  Every emotion produces some noticeable body sensations [ask for examples of sensations they experience with fear, anger, sadness]

  2.  Hit the STOP (or “pause”) button

  3. Use mindfulness skills to identify the thoughts you’re having

  4. Use mindfulness skills to figure out what the emotion is urging you to do/not do (behavioral urges)

  5. Identify the short-term and long-term consequences of engaging in this emotion-driven behavior and ask yourself

    1. Will engaging in this behavior produce the outcome I want?

    2. If not, what can I do (or not do) instead that is more likely to produce my desired outcome?

  6. Choose your preferred response, turn off the Stop/Pause button and GO FOR IT

Emotional Awareness takes intention and work 

If you’re used to experiencing your emotions and their aftermath as one uninterrupted “blur,” can be hard to slow the process down. If you’re used to avoiding your emotions, allowing yourself to experience them can also be hard. With practice, it will get easier and more automatic.

Homework

Practice observing and describing your emotional experiences without judgment [see Mindfulness handout]. Start with neutral stimuli (what you see when you walk across campus, listening to music) or with lighter emotions (a little anxiety vs a panic attack)

Practice using Emotional Awareness to slow down your emotional experiences and make informed choices about how to respond to them [see Emotional Awareness worksheet]. Start using the worksheet retrospectively – to analyze an emotional experience you’ve already had. When you get good at this, try doing it in real-time (as the emotional experience is occurring).

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