Written by Dagless Kangero
Here’s the punchline, biology is not a choice. Our emotions are not justified by our environment. Fortunately, and unfortunately, we are all wired and re-wired differently.
The phrase “running on empty” has gained meaning in the current fast paced capitalist society. We use stimulants such as coffee and energy drinks to fuel ourselves up for the busy day ahead. We download meditation apps and perform breathing exercises when life starts catching up and choking us. We are all under the guise that if someone walked in our shoes for a day, they, too, would be just as tired, and stressed. We parade around upset, feeling misunderstood and expecting others to align with how we feel or want to feel. The truth is that everyone has a choice in how they act and react to situations. We are responsible for only our own actions and reactions.
This quick read will encourage you to lead a more self-aware life providing overall wellness.
An aware person can answer simply and honestly when asked, “what is your body experiencing?”. Track and tracing your emotions to the state of your body requires self-awareness. Emotional adversity is connected to a lack of self-awareness. If we want to live a life of abundance, peace, and joy- we need to recognise the role biology has in our behaviour and emotions. Self-regulation is a product of self-awareness. Emotional self-regulation is the ability to manage your emotions and behaviours to fit the demands of your environment. Self-regulators can calm themselves, are persistent during trying times, self-validating, flexible and adaptable, act according to their value system, are clear about their intentions and see the good in others. People who can self-regulate are people who are triggered just like everybody else, but do not outsource regulation. They developed the habit of effectively responding rather than impulsively reacting.
Dysfunctional behaviour is a build up of circumstances, stressors and reactive responses rather than volition (free will). Children have very little control and ability, if any at all, to self-regulate more than the adults in charge of their immediate world. When families experience stressful or traumatic events, child development is also disrupted in every area. This could be physically, emotionally, behaviorally, genetically, hormonally, cognitively, immune systems, relationships and attachment style. Children who have been exposed to any significant changes classified as ‘triggers’, their sensitivity increases requiring very little to cause a reaction within themselves. As an illustration, a child who had a very optimal and stable life, would probably need a lot more stress to tip them over. In contrast, a child who grew up with constant triggers fluctuating Adrenalin and cortisol levels (hormones responsible for body regulation), would most likely be vulnerable to emotional changes such as fear, withdrawal, anger, hostility and flight. This person is not broken nor are they problematic because they chose to be. This person has a heightened sensitivity to factors that a child who has not experienced similar abuse or neglect does not. That means the environment of the person with increased sensitivity needs to accommodate this.
It’s just very unfortunate that we may have our hands tied when picking our environments. Even as adults, the high earning job that pays for all your needs and also a good amount of your wants, may be the same job that triggers your anxiety and frustration with yourself and life. We all wonder why Amy at work is so short tempered and always tired compared to everyone else who has the same work schedule and load? Perhaps Amy’s parents gave in to tantrums instead of coaching Amy how to self-regulate. Or perhaps Amy’s parents were stressors in her life not knowing how to regulate their own emotions. Lastly, Amy may have had little or large changes in hormones affecting her personality. Amy has accumulated reactive responses according to her childhood environment, and possibly her personality. When Amy receives a fresh load of paperwork to go through, she’s triggered which makes her afraid, changing her biochemistry and blames everyone around her. The adult Amy in the work environment cannot manage themselves.
Inter-generational trauma affects the lens we view the world so far as biology explains. This might change the way we look at circumstances. When we experience our emotions, we need to OWN them. This requires practice and intentionality. A good path to emotional maturity is recognising that, “my [negative emotion] is my inability to self-regulate and has nothing to do with the actions of another person”.
Our quality of life is also dependent on self-regulation. Everything in your life is connected. The state of your body influences emotional change, thinking, and behaviour. A bad flu may decrease your confidence. Emotional dysregulation can weaken our immune systems, tighten our muscles causing headaches and tension, and increase blood sugar levels. The healing process in the body is therefore to bring our body back to balance. Our bodies have a balance system. Your body Is for you, not against you. The balance system corrects our imbalance automatically. Therefore, it is important to learn to self-regulate to support the information sent to the balance system. Move from lack of awareness to self-awareness to avoid constantly having an out of body experience. Understand why and how you react so you don’t bleed on people around you.
In doing so, you will also give people the benefit of the doubt rather than assuming there’s planned action or vendetta against you. If we live this way, even traffic has less of an impact on us. Self-regulation puts us well on our way to starting our day in a good mood that our co-workers and those around us would prefer to experience.
Here’s how you can learn to self-regulate, break inter-generation emotional dysregulation and pursue long term goals:
1. Mindfulness. This has become a popular term in mental health awareness. Mindfulness is the process of paying attention to the present with non-judgment. Useful exercises to practice mindfulness are focused breathing exercises and gratitude which has a calming effect and a safe space between you and your emotions.
2. Rewiring of the mind. This is a crucial point that requires changing your thought patterns. You are sure to experience more positive emotions rather than negative emotions which may lead to a spiraling series of thoughts which keep you up at night. In psychology this strategy is known as cognitive re-framing which reinterprets a certain situation to change your emotional reaction. Instead of thinking “my friend didn’t answer my phone call because she hates me”, you are comfortable with thinking “my friend must be busy and will call me back when they can”. You reinterpret the situation so that your friend missing your call does not personally reflect on you.
These two are simple game changers!
Ready, set, go- heal yourself, beloved.