Several years ago, I did some postgraduate work in the neuroscience of leadership. While on this journey, I became more and more in awe of our brain and its workings. This mere three-pound organ has over 100 billion nerve cells that each makes thousands of connections. And as more brain research becomes possible as technology progresses, we’re finding that there’s much more complexity in how we as humans operate.
Throughout this work, I learned about regulating our emotions and how impactful this one skill can be. Emotional regulation is the ability to respond in the range of emotions that is socially acceptable. Doing this takes practice and time. How frequently do you find yourself in a downward spiral? How often do you get the feeling that you just can’t pull yourself out of it no matter how hard you try?
Reflecting on this training, I now understand that my work throughout this learning journey is to recognize, modify and strengthen my own talents, skills and mindfulness to be able to solve my own challenges and issues, and to help my clients do the same.
Are you almost constantly operating in a downward spiral and unable to see any way of changing its direction?
If so, here are nine of my learnings on how to reverse, or even prevent, the downward spiral:
1. Be aware. Just knowing the different aspects of a downward spiral and acknowledging you are in one can help you reappraise, re frame or label this as something else.
2. Start an open conversation. Identify your feelings and find someone with whom you can talk about your emotions during this time. Encourage others to talk and even write about their given situation.
3. Take a step back to get perspective. Take a look at the situation in the third person rather than in the first person. There is a technique I have learned from Organizational, Relationship and Systems Coaching (ORSC) called “Coaching the Third Entity™.” Using this technique, the coach helps the client look at the situation as an entity outside of them. This helps bring to the situation an objectivity that was previously absent. It also helps in regulating the emotions around the situation.
4. Don’t seclude yourself. Get out and be around others. This action will remind you that you are not alone.
5. Look to the future. Find something positive to look forward to. At times, the expectation of a reward could be more fulfilling than the reward itself.
6. Explore the root of the problem. Practice Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions broadens awareness in order to encourage exploring your thoughts and actions. It can help you see that most of your downward spiral originates in your thoughts. Over time, using this technique can build the skills and resources necessary to help us catch our downward spiral early on, or prevent it altogether.
7. Manage expectations. Learn the importance of managing your own expectations by under promising and over-delivering. Set clear and realistic goals. Bill Watterson, the author of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, states: “I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep everyone’s expectations.”
8. Be present. Try mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation. Both practices can keep you in the present, preventing you from worrying about what may or may not happen in the future. “Be here now” has become something of a cliché. Still, when it comes to fear and anxiety, the recommendation holds true. If you are worrying, then you are by definition living outside the present moment and, in a sense, even ignoring reality itself.
9. Breathe. When all else fails, breathe deeply and often.
As Marilu Henner, prolific entertainer and wellness promoter, said, “Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life.”
(This article originally appears in: Forbes.com)