Who hasn’t been swept up by a powerful emotion, and then ended up paying the price for overreacting? Whether our emotions are positive or negative, they can have damaging effects whenever they overcome our better judgment.
In recovery, it’s vital to build the skill of managing and processing our emotions in healthy, measured ways. This ability can be key to enduring sobriety, while also improving our quality of life. Continue reading to learn more about the role emotions play in daily life, and how we can better process them.
What are emotions?
As humans, emotions are intrinsic to daily life. Emotions are the reactions triggered by something we see, think about, or experience. How a particular stimulus or situation affects one person may be totally different than the way it registers with another. For a stimulus to elicit an emotion, it has to connect with us in a unique and meaningful way.
According to anthropologist Paul Eckman, the six basic emotions include:
When we experience these emotional states, they trigger both physiological and mental changes. For example, anger can cause the face to flush, hearts to race, and incite powerful desires to retaliate. Joy can result in a surge of positive energy, a sense of euphoria, and smiling.
Emotional regulation and processing in recovery
During active substance use, negative emotional states were often numbed by our substance of choice, thus sparing us from fully experiencing unpleasant emotions. In recovery, learning how to work through and process emotions without the aid of a numbing agent is essential to maintaining sobriety.
Although successfully managing emotions is not always easy, there are helpful strategies. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) teaches life skills in recovery, including emotional regulation. DBT emotional regulation technique involves developing the following skills:
- The “STOP” skill: Stop, Take a step back, Observe, Proceed mindfully
- The “Opposite Action” skill: Choose to respond with the opposite action
- The “ABC” skill: Accumulate positive emotions, Build mastery, Cope ahead
- The positive self-talk skill: Revise negative thought patterns
Another emotional regulation process utilized in substance use disorder treatment is the Gross model, which features five stages. Individuals in recovery are taught to process their emotions using these five stages:
Each of these stages helps adjust physiological, behavioral and cognitive processes to re-learn healthier ways to experience and respond to triggering situations.
How to process emotions
While the structure of a therapeutic technique can be especially helpful in the early stages of recovery, processing emotions in a healthy, constructive way doesn’t always require a formal method. Here are some useful tips anybody can use to manage and process emotions:
- Keep a journal: When you experience negative emotions and have no one available to talk them over with, try jotting them down in a journal. By putting your feelings down on paper, you are actually processing emotions and working through the situation that triggered them.
- Learn relaxation techniques: There are several holistic actions you can incorporate into your routine. These can help you manage difficult emotions by inducing relaxation. Examples include yoga, aromatherapy, guided meditation, gardening and exercise.
- Thought switching: When you find yourself in a repetitive loop of negative thoughts and emotions, cognitive behavioral therapy can help you break the pattern and switch your thoughts from negative, defeatist ones to positive, productive ones.
How we process our emotions can be a powerful factor in managing recovery. By learning new ways to regulate our emotions, we can exert greater control over our actions and reduce the risk of relapse.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.