3 Easy Mindfulness Exercises to Regulate your Emotions
By Joan Swart, Psy.D.
Emotion regulation means that a person is able to respond in a socially appropriate way to external stimuli. Depending on the situation, he or she has to be flexible enough to allow or avoid an instinctive reaction. A lack of emotion regulation often emerges in childhood and is associated with psychological issues, behavior problems, and poor executive functioning. An unstable emotional state and inadequate controls are likely to interfere with a person achieving his or her goals. For example, a child who has trouble managing their anger will provoke negative reactions from others and feel even more alienated or rejected. Whereas a thoughtful process of dealing with angry feelings has the opposite reaction and promote cooperative engagement and stability.
Emotion regulation is an executive functioning skill
The ability to regulate emotions is recognized as one of the key executive functioning skills. These are the techniques that children develop to let them plan, organize, and complete daily tasks. Keeping impulses and feelings in check prevent overreaction and help deal with criticism and unexpected adversity. It also means that a person is likely to become emotional when frustrated and often gets upset or moody. Fortunately, research has shown that the ability to adjust emotions by using rational thinking to understand when it is unhelpful and unrealistic can be learned and practiced, in particular with mindfulness exercises.
Mindfulness improves emotional well-being and compassion
Mindfulness training has been practiced since ancient times, for more than 3,000 years. Folks realized that it improved general emotional wellbeing, increased compassion for oneself and others, and made people more thoughtful and calm—old and young alike. It has been relatively recently that it spilled over to modern day use—nowadays found in homes, schools, workplaces, sports centers, and more. By acting mindfully, people are not only aware of their own feelings but become able to distance from it, avoiding feeling overpowered and acting out. The following are three mindfulness exercises designed to make a child or adult more aware and mindful of their inner thoughts and feelings. It also teaches a focus on the present moment, and that emotions do not have to overwhelm your life.
1. Mindful walks
Schedule time a few times a week to stroll through your neighborhood and notice things you haven’t seen before. Designate one minute of the walk to be completely silent and simply pay attention to all the colors you see – green, blue, white, etc., and sounds you can hear – birds, lawnmowers, dogs, etc.
2. Personal weather report
Sit still and observe everything around you and inside you. It helps you find out what you’re thinking, feeling, and doing. Notice your breathing as you breathe in and out. Feel your chest and belly rising. Be still. Relaxed and calm. Take your time to focus your attention. Start to notice small things. Some movements are okay, just notice it. Now, think about your feelings at the moment like a weather report. Sunny, stormy, rainy, calm, tornado…? Just reflect on and observe your feelings. Like the weather, you can’t change your feelings. But, you can adapt the way that you respond to it. You are not your feelings and emotions. Just like the weather, they come and go. As they happen, just accept them.
3. Gratitude practice
Take a moment daily before a shared meal for everyone to take turns and express your appreciation for one thing. It really helps with positive awareness and improves compassion for others. The ability to feel compassion is linked to balancing moods and regulate emotions.
What to do next?
Joan is the author of “Treating Adolescents with Family-Based Mindfulness” published by Springer in 2015.