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Balancing The Emotional Systems - Emotion Regulation

Anger is an all-consuming emotion at times, even more so now as we deal with new situations. If you don't get a grip on it, it can affect your quality of life. Anger will damage your relationships and raise your stress levels. If anger is beginning to impact your life, start taking steps to control your emotional state.

DBT Skills Group - Emotion Regulation will be starting on June 2, 2021. Virtual (Zoom) group will meet from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. every Wednesday. $420 cost for 6-week session.

Our emotions. Do you sometimes feel they are controlling your life? What do you do when they seem to send you off on short-sighted and hasty reactions? When we are calm, we have the ability to better express our emotions. We also understand the reactions and responses of other people and hope they will respond to them. What happens though when our emotions seem to be running the show and making you feel out of control? The emotional roller coaster you are on can be confusing and overwhelming. Different emotions and reactions are simultaneously swirling through your mind. This is where emotion regulation becomes key.


If your emotions are regulated, they provide important information to you. With the right responses, they are used to avert danger. Your emotions can also help solve problems and smooth out responses. As you learn to understand your emotions, your feelings become balanced and productive.


Humans, like a computer, have an operating system for dealing with complex emotions. The emotion regulation systems are both conscious and unconscious. The coping strategies will affect our emotions, moods and feelings. They are there to help us process stimulus and experience. To do this, there are three different systems at play – Threat, Drive and Soothing.

What Are Emotion Regulation Systems?


The Threat System signals you to detect and respond to danger.


The Drive System is based around doing and acquiring.

The Soothing System will help you develop an inner calmness and sense of well-being.

You need all three systems, yet the key is to understand how to balance them to work together. When one system is allowed to dominate, our emotions can get off-kilter. The first step is an awareness and how to fine-tune your own personal system.
Emotion regulation involves three components:
Actions initiated and triggered by emotions.
Actions inhibited and triggered by emotions.
Learning to modulate actions and responses triggered by emotions.

The most effective way to engage the regulatory process of your emotions is by modulating your responses.

How Do These Systems Work?


SYSTEM #1: Threat
Your default state is the Threat System. In early man, the intent was to protect you from predators. It initiates the fight/flight/freeze responses crucial to your survival. Even though we have evolved, the Threat system still kicks in, even if the situation is not life-threatening. It’s your immediate instinct to stay safe. In the “computer mode” your mind will sort different types of threats. Your mind then activates the fight or flight reaction. The reaction can be from something as simple as a tense conversation. When triggered the conscious mind is hijacked, making you think in an irrational way.
A great example is if you are driving in heavy traffic and you get cut off, endangering your safety. In short order you are likely to experience fear, anxiety and possible anger. The action was a very real threat to your safety. Another example would be a disagreement with your spouse or partner. While this is not life threatening, it can create similar feelings.


SYSTEM #2: Drive
The Drive System is why we work to get things like food, shelter, safety, etc. In our world now it extends to the desire to get certain things. Great examples are money, material possessions, and entertainment. When you achieve these things/accomplishments, your brain rewards you. It releases the neurotransmitter, dopamine. This in turn reinforces, in our modern society, the desire for success. Over time, you can develop an overreliance on achievement and acquisition. This unconsciously helps you avoid feelings of rejection or inferiority. This can create a cycle of setting unrealistic goals. When you don’t reach them, it makes you vulnerable to emotions like depression and anxiety.


SYSTEM #3: Soothing
Activating the Soothing System will deactivate the Threat and Drive Systems. A well run soothing system will produce the endorphins in your brain. This gives you a feeling of calm, safety and peacefulness. For infants, it's important to develop a strong, dependable bond and relationship with the parent or primary caregiver. This relationship creates the sense of security that sets the foundation for confidence. With this established, it becomes easier for a child calm oneself. This process will continue into adulthood. If you do not have a strong Soothing System, you will find it hard to self-regulate negative emotions. You will react with emotions like anxiety and anger. The ability to self-sooth helps you feel safe and content. Soothing is the ability to accept your emotions, then look at them . At that point, you are able to allow them to pass, instead of reacting to a perceived threat.

How to Identify When Each System is Acting

The Threat System is easiest to identify, by the associated physical sensations. The racing heart, shallow breathing, sweaty palms, or dizziness can overwhelm you. You might also experience an upset stomach, muscle tension and tearfulness.


Understanding and recognizing the Drive System in overdrive is harder to identify. The dopamine produced creates feelings of pleasure and the reinforcement you thrive on. Often, the clues of this system are obvious to others around you. Have you ever had a friend or family member tell you to stop or slow down when you appear obsessed with a project or plan? Stop and listen to what others are telling you, they are looking out for you.


It may seem counterintuitive to you at first, yet the Soothing System, the most pleasurable, is also the easiest to ignore. It is the most pleasurable of the three, and yet it is also the easiest to ignore. The best way to identify this state is when you are doing something you enjoy. Stop and think about how it provides feelings of peace and happiness. What are some simple things that bring you joy? The great taste of that first cup of coffee, do you stop and appreciate it and the pleasure it brings you?


Balancing the Emotional Systems

So where do you start? The Emotion Regulation Skills group will teach you tools to bring your emotions into balance. Mindfulness is a key in all three systems to make change. You will learn different techniques that are more effective at different times. The most important thing is to become keenly aware of your feelings. Your personal self-awareness gives you power. You will begin to make small shifts in your emotions as they arise.
You will identify skills to interrupt the physical responses. You will develop the tools to shift your mind off the physical feeling of panic. You'll learn how to help your brain think rationally instead of emotionally.
You will find the skills to use when the different Systems are dominate during the group. You will realize when it’s time to stop and re-evaluate. You’ll know when to spend time doing something you find calming.
You will become comfortable with the skills. This will help you revisit goals and align them with your priorities. To build time into your schedule for things you enjoy.
You’ll learn when the Soothing System is in gear, and how to nurture it. There will be practice using warm language toward yourself and others. You will learn about being present in the moment, and not worrying about the past or the future.
As with any changes you make, they will need practice. Like a muscle, it has to be flexed to become stronger. The Emotion Regulation Skills Group will give you the support for these changes. It will be the place to practice the new skills in a safe environment. You will learn to move through your emotions with grace and calm instead of fear. anxiety and anger.

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Even though it might seem like you are unable to get a grasp on your emotions and regulation, Pathways Counseling Services will be starting the "Emotion Regulation" DBT Skills Group on June 2, 2021.  We are currently signing up participants now. Please call Marcy at 480-235-1682 to sign up for this 6-week Virtual (Zoom) group. We encourage you to schedule an appointment online, contact us or call our office at 480-235-1682 with any questions. You are not alone in dealing with your emotions and we can help you to live an authentic and more meaningful life - a life that you deserve. The class is recommended for participants 17 and older.

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