Sunday, July 9, 2017

Regulating One’s Emotional Thermostat (Keeping Emotionally Cool)

by Kathleen Krol, LCSW, RPT-S

Summer has arrived with its warmer days and longer nights. At this time of the year, patience can wane – and internal thermostats can rise – as family members spend more time together. Awareness of our own emotional stress threshold in relation to others can be overlooked in the day-to-day hectic shuffle of life. Good communication skills tend to slide with the people whom we are closest; family and significant personal relationships. Many people push through stress with minimal awareness of heightened emotional tension and physical discomfort. Or if there is awareness of these sensations, they may be suppressed, after all schedules still need to be kept and the job still needs to get done. How often do we pause to check in on how we are affected by our daily tasks and personal interactions? Are we checking our emotional temperature throughout the day? 
The amygdala is the frontal lobe part of the brain that “fires up” when we are experiencing strong emotion like anger or emotional upset. The rational or logic part of the brain can shut down once the amygdala is “lit up” by emotion. So when we can self-regulate and become aware of our rising emotions, before it heats up too much, it can help us to consciously make choices about how we want to react in situations or with others. 
One way to emotionally self-regulate throughout the day is by picking a relaxation cue. Your cue can be anything from your watch or phone, a picture at the office or that armchair at home. Every time you look at or pass that object, take a deep breath and think “relax” as you exhale slowly, repeat this 2-3 times. Momentary pauses throughout the day, can help keep us in a more relaxed mode and alleviate tension before it builds up further. 
Body scanning for areas of tension can be effective by itself or as a supplement to the above technique. If your emotional thermostat starts to rise, that vague feeling of anxiety or being overwhelmed, your body is most likely tightening as well. Start at your head and quickly scan down to your feet for areas of tension. While taking a deep breath, focus on tightening the area, holding about 3-5 sec, then exhale and release the tension at the same time. Repeat 2-3 times.
At the end of the day, check in with yourself on the drive home, before walking in or out the front door. Are you still carrying something left over from earlier in the day? If so, take a deep breath, hold and then exhale by blowing out, saying “release tension” and imagining the tension being pushed out of your body. Follow by inhaling deeply and saying breathe in relaxation. You also might imagine a soothing color gently washing over your body with the feeling of relaxation. Being aware can reduce the chance of redirecting your frustration unto your significant other, children or pets. Conscious use of simple techniques throughout the day, can help one better regulate one’s emotional state and thus have a “cooling” effect in stress build-up.
How does one incorporate these suggestions on a day-to-day basis? By starting with one idea that resonates with you and consciously making it a part of your routine through phone reminders, a color sticky placed on your relaxation cue, a note on the mirror or refrigerator. Sometimes mutual friends can send a text of encouragement and reminder. Remember change is a process, give yourself time and expect lapses. But do give yourself credit for your effort at being more self-aware in your own emotional regulation!  
Are you interested in learning more about emotional regulation for yourself or your children and teens? Contact Kathleen Krol at or 215-289-3101 #1. 
Kathleen also runs regular children’s groups for ages 4-9 on expressing and coping with feelings. Contact her for more information and to be notified when the next group will be starting again.  
Kathleen Krol is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Family-Play Therapist who works with children, adolescents and families combining family therapy, play and sand tray therapy along with parenting strategies to help the whole family system. Her specialties include emotional regulation, trauma, life transitions, anxiety, depression, and attachment issues. Contact her for a free 30 min phone consultation.

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