They really were right in kindergarten when they told you to: “Use your words”
Check out the following picture:
Follow these steps:
- On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 = calm/peaceful and 10 = out of my mind anxious, what did/do you feel when you’ve been most upset today? (This is a moment when your adrenal glands secreted cortisol, the stress hormone, and started to turn stress into distress)
- Look at the innermost circle and select from: Bad, Fearful, Angry, Disgusted, Sad, Bad, Surprised, Happy the emotion you felt/feel most intensely today when you were upset (probably not Happy) and say it aloud to yourself.
- Then move outward to the next circle and then outermost circle to see if you can make it even more specific and say those words aloud to yourself.
- Then fill in the blank, “The reason I believe I felt (or am feeling) _________ (the most descriptive words you came up with) is because ____________.”
- “And when I felt/feel ____________, what it made/makes me want to do is _______________.”
- “And if I did/do that, what is most likely to happen is ____________.”
- “The last time I felt that way was _____________ and what I did then was ____________.”
- “And when I did that, what happened was ________________.”
- Now take a deep, long, slow B-R-E-A-T-H and E-X-H-A-L-E
- “A better thing to do would be ______________ and that’s because ____________.”
- On that same 1 to 10 scale from number 1, what do you feel now? (It should be lower)
- Now try going through 1 – 11, imagining someone living or dead who cared/cares about you, believed/believes in you, thought/thinks you will make it through anything walking you through them. Feel your gratitude and appreciation towards that person.
- Now, on that same 1 to 10 scale from number 1, what do you feel now? (It should be even lower)
- If this has helped you calm down, share it with someone else and walk them through it (there is something incredibly calming when you get out of your head to help someone else)
- Finally, on that same 1 to 10 scale from number 1, what do you feel now? (It should be lower still)
If this worked for you, perhaps you’d like to know why and how.
Matthew Lieberman is a Cognitive Neuroscientist at UCLA and a pioneer in the field of affective labeling. What that means is that when you accurately attach the correct word to what you are feeling, it lowers amygdala activation. Your amygdala is part of your emotional brain and when overstimulated can hijack you away from being able to use your higher brain which allows you to think.
When you accurately labeled/label what you felt/feel when you were upset today, you caused your amygdala to calm down and the steps in the above sequence walked you up into your thinking brain. When that happened you felt some relief and pleasure which caused you to get a surge of dopamine (the pleasure hormone).
Finally with steps 12 – 15, when you imagined someone who care/cared about you walking you through the steps and then you do the same with someone else, this induces a surge of oxytocin (the bonding hormone).
The combination of dopamine (the pleasure or relief) plus oxytocin (the feel of connection vs. feeling isolated) together then counterbalances the high cortisol that was triggered when you first felt upset.
If you give this a try, please share in your comments how it worked out and also how we can improve this.