Get a grip on yourself! Managing your involuntary emotional reactions

Read in: Deutsch (German)

Who doesn’t know the fear of “losing it” during a job interview or a presentation! Due to how the brain works, we have very little influence on when and how intensely an emotion will grip us. As a rule, in a stressful situation we are “attacked” by our emotions and the thoughts that accompany them. Especially intense feelings trigger involuntary reactions.

However, we can influence how we manage our responses: We can notice which thoughts, behaviors and conditions strengthen such involuntary emotions, making us weak and unready to deal with the situation, and which ones reduce those emotions to make us strong and ready.

Conscious self-regulation entails stopping ourselves for a moment to become aware of what is going on. This moment of mindful self-perception slows down our normal automatic reactions and opens up a variety of possible ways to respond. There are numerous techniques of self-regulation:

Physical strategies

  • Get fresh air, take a walk, get rid of excess energy before the encounter
  • Feel the floor/ground beneath your feet
  • Breathe in and out deeply
  • Do an inventory of your five senses: What do you see, hear, feel, smell, taste?
  • Change your posture, stand up straight with your head up and shoulders back
  • Change your body tension, consciously tighten or relax parts of your body
  • Change your voice volume or pace

Cognitive Strategies

  • Step aside and take a look at yourself and the situation from the outside
  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes
  • Create a positive image of the outcome, visualize it and anchor it with a gesture
  • Talk yourself into a good mood or outcome
  • Relate this experience to others (everything is relative)
  • Do freewriting to unburden yourself, naming and describing your feelings
  • Focus on your goals and visions rather than on yourself

Communicative strategies

  • Repeat and/or ask to check what you heard (clarifies and buys you thinking time)
  • Switch to the meta level (draw the other person’s attention to the process)
  • Express your feelings through I-messages if appropriate (draw the other person’s attention to your perspective)
  • Take a break
  • Cancel or cut short the exchange and reschedule for a later time

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Trainer/ coach from Washington, D.C. based in Berlin. Enthusiastic gardener, sailor, reader.

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