I don’t like how I’m feeling right now. Sometimes our emotions can be ugly. When we are tuned in to our emotions, we feel them more deeply. Depression becomes sadness, despair, or grief. Anger becomes aggravation or agitation. Fear becomes anxiety, nervousness, or jumpiness.
DBT teaches us to name the emotion in order to better understand what is prompting it. Sometimes it may be as simple as saying that you are depressed because you have a condition called depression. But does that mean you can’t do anything about it?
And there are biological changes that take place in our bodies when we are feeling a certain emotion. Think of the big smile and light heartedness you feel when you are happy. And the tears and shakiness when you are sad.
Personally, I feel agitated a lot. I know this is a symptom of my depression. I may have to go somewhere I don’t want to go, which makes me nervous and jittery. I don’t like waiting around to do it- I want to get going and get it over with. The emotion I feel is fear, namely anxiety. The biological changes due to this fear are stomach cramping, restless legs and wanting to avoid the thing I have to do.
We express our emotions in many ways. I may be short with others, and I try to talk myself out of going where I’m supposed to go. I run through all of the excuses I could tell someone and usually discount each one of them and end up going anyway. (Yay for me!)
DBT (Dialectic Behavior Therapy) has a module to help regulate your emotions, which I call “Emotion Leveling.” In DBT there are skills that teach you that you can change your emotional responses by verifying that the emotion fits the facts of the situation, doing an action that is opposite to the action you are taking in your emotion mind and using problem solving skills.
In some cases, with me, my emotion of fear does not fit the facts because wherever I am going is usually not a scary place. That’s why I like to use the opposite action. My therapist would say “do it even if you don’t want to,” which is easier said than done!
I have employed a technique that I use called “Be A Word.” I start by naming my emotions, and then I look at what the opposite emotion would be named. The opposite of sadness might be happiness.
I like to use terms from the Bible, things Jesus tells us to be: gentle, confident, loving, forgiving, childlike. I choose a word that is opposite to my feeling such as “Loving” when I don’t want to go to a commitment. Being loving means that I don’t run out on my promises, it means I do what I say I’ll do and be present for others while I’m doing it. I choose that word and remind myself to be that word. When I feel agitated I name it and then remind myself that my word is “loving” and I try to be that word. The word you use doesn’t have to be the exact opposite of the emotion you’re feeling, it just has to be different- a word you aspire to be. I can’t be really loving if I am agitated.
God tells us how He wants us to act. The Bible is filled with clues about how we relate to others and to Him. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you think God’s thoughts to be like Jesus. I have a book of promises (Bible Promises for Life for Women) that I like to use to help me think of how Jesus wants me to be. In it I have found things like this that are based on God’s Word:
Anger to Gentle: “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” Proverbs 15:1
Depression to Thankfulness or Laughter: “Thanksgiving will pour out of the windows, laughter will spill through the doors. Things will get better and better. Depression days are over.” Jeremiah 30:19
Fear to Trust: “With God on my side, I will not be afraid of what comes. My heart overflows with praise to God and for His promises. I will always trust in Him.” Psalm 56:11
Fear to Strong: “Be strong! Do not fear.” Isaiah 35:4
Shame to Radiant: “Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” Psalm 34:5
Grief to Comfort or Blessed: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” Matthew 5:4
You get the picture. Don’t be a slave to your unwanted emotions. Become another word. Then remind yourself throughout the day that you are that word.