Get a grip on yourself! Managing your involuntary emotional reactions

After training as a coach and working for the Consilia cct team of trainers, I have become more interested in stress management in communication.

Who doesn’t know the fear of “losing it” during a job interview or a presentation! 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 your excess energy
  • Feel the 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, straighten up with your shoulders back
  • Change your body tension, relax consciously
  • Change the tone and pace of your voice

Cognitive Strategies

  • Step “onto your inner balcony” and take a look at the situation from that outside vantage point
  • Change perspectives and put yourself in the other person’s shoes
  • Create a positive image of the outcome, visualize it and anchor it with a gesture
  • Accentuate the positive, practice gratitude, remind yourself of all of the possible good outcomes
  • Remember that everything is relative, it could be a lot worse
  • Practice freewriting, naming and describing your feelings
  • Focus on your goals and visions rather than on yourself

Communicative strategies

  • Repeat and ask to check what the other person said to clear your thoughts and buy thinking time
  • Switch to the meta level  and draw the other person’s attention to the process
  • Express your feelings through I-messages and draw the other person’s attention to your perspective
  • Take a short break
  • Cancel or cut short the exchange and agree to continue later