Alexithymia, is a sub clinical construct of an individual's inability to recognise, label, differentiate, and link emotions to events of daily living. This precipitates a wide variety of behavioural actions, including substance abuse, eating disorders, generalised anxiety disorder, traumatic disorder and interpersonal expressions.
Right from the time we get up to the time we hit the bed at night, we go through a myriad of emotions throughout the day, every day. In every walk of life, we are guided by the mechanism of cognition and feelings which finds expression in our behaviour. Thus, in layman terms emotion is a state of mind and behaviour is a state of being. Without emotions, our lives would lack meaning, texture, richness, joy and the understanding of connectedness with others. Emotions assist us in evaluating our alternatives, provide motivation for change, help in identification of our subjective and objective needs as well as rationality in thoughts and action.
Each emotion has a particular behaviour linked to it. Alexithymia, is a sub clinical construct of an individual's inability to recognise, label, differentiate, and link emotions to events of daily living. This precipitates a wide variety of behavioural actions, including substance abuse, eating disorders, generalised anxiety disorder, traumatic disorder and interpersonal expressions. It is often observed that experience of strong negative emotions, lead to an adoption of unhelpful and damaging coping strategies such as substance use, self-harm like cutting of wrist, etc., or unhealthy eating habits.
Roots to managing emotions may be traced back to the family environment wherein use of words referring to emotion, distinguishing and labelling emotions and encouraging discussion of emotions help in healthy coping strategies for dealing with emotions.
"Emotion regulation" is the process of monitoring, evaluating and modifying an individual's emotional reactions to physical or mental stimuli. Individuals coping with stressful situations will experience increasing intensity of emotion, which, in itself, can be a further cause of stress and further escalation of emotion. The following situation experienced by a client who visited MIND IndiaWellness Centre explains the cycle of emotional dis-regulation.
Case 1: Mr "A", studying graduation in a local university broke up with his girlfriend of five years. This left him of course disheartened and lonely. Apart from that, he also went through the emotions of anger, anxiety, hopelessness, and guilt. As these emotions became more intense, he started taking marijuana and alcohol and a lot of junk food. He lost sleep and started withdrawing from social activities.
This dysfunctional style of coping may bring in an immediate feel-good factor, which however will have adverse bio-psycho-social impact in the long term. Hence emotional regulation is of utmost importance.
Emotion regulation may include any coping strategy (problematic or adaptive) that the individual uses when confronted with an unwanted intensity of emotion. It is important to recognise that emotion regulation is like a homeostatic thermostat. It can moderate emotions and keep them within a "manageable range" so that one can cope.
Some strategies for emotion regulation
Identify, recognise and accept your feelings: the sooner you are able to label and accept the feeling, the faster is the healing process.
Allow yourself to feel: You might try to talk to yourself out of your feelings, because you feel like you "shouldn't" have them. Thank yourself for the input, and then just go ahead and feel the way you do.
Emotions aren't value judgments: Rather than thinking of your emotions as "good" or "bad" simply let them be what they are.
Refrain from reacting: When your feelings are strong, just be with them. Once, they've subsided, you'll be in a position to take rational action.
Restructuring the thinking pattern: As distressing thoughts lead to negative emotions, it can be effective to notice and identify the thoughts, learn to think differently by calming oneself and then rethink on one's perception changing to a positive and rational outlook
Seek help: Many a times even though we have tried the above strategies, we may not be able to help ourselves. This is the time to talk to a mental health professional confidentially in a safe space.
The environment will always bombard us with different stimulation which will evoke different emotions in us. The choice is ours on how we express it.
Dr Sangeeta Goswami
President, MIND India
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