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How Can I Regulate My Emotions During the Fall/Winter?

Andrew D. Castillo, LCSW, MSW

Depending on who you ask we are either on the cusp, or in the throws of the holiday season! While this may be a time for festivities and celebration with family and friends, we also know that the change in seasons can be a difficult time for many people, for a variety of reasons. We may experience seasonal patterns of depression or other diagnoses, face increased stressors associated with holiday expectations, or may that our sense of loneliness is exacerbated when it seems like everyone around us has people to celebrate with.  We may also find reduced access to our normal coping skills, like exercising outside, in the colder months. Finding strategies and resources for responding effectively to our emotions is a step towards feeling empowered during this time of the year.   

What is emotion regulation?

According to the APA dictionary of psychology, emotion regulation is generally defined as the ability to modify our emotions through learned strategies based on adapting our environment, redirecting the target of our heightened emotions, and identifying positive behaviors to support our mental state. Emotion regulation skills have been found to be particularly useful for clients who struggle with intense emotional states and mood swings, but these strategies can also be applied to anyone experiencing a vulnerable emotion experience. 

Examples/Ideas?

Our routines play a huge role in regulating our emotions. The relationship between the health of the body and mind is well documented, and maintaining certain activities even when feeling stable can aid in limiting the impact of negative life events. As an example, the “PLEASE” acronym, as developed by psychologist Marsha Linehan, reminds us to: Treat Physical Illness, Eat Healthy, Avoid Mood Altering Drugs, Sleep Well, and Exercise. Using a mood tracker may also be useful in identifying the impact changes in our routine and physical health can have on our mood. 

Adapting our behavioral response to intense or elevated emotions can also be an effective tool when feeling overwhelmed. This is particularly useful if we have a pattern of responding to heightened emotions with unhealthy or risky behaviors, such as getting into screaming matches, road rage, or isolating from others. One emotion regulation skill, “Opposite Action”, walks us through several steps including 1) identifying our emotional state, 2) reflecting on whether this emotion and its intensity is serving you, 3) identifying an action “urges” from this emotion, and 4) Fully engaging in the behavior opposite of this emotional urge. When practicing this with clients they often report not only a reduction in harmful behaviors, but a reduction in the intensity of the emotion. 

Using these skills during the fall/winter months?

 If you notice that changes in season or the arrival of the holidays can be a trigger for mood dysregulation, its very important to have a game plan to respond to this. Start by reviewing individually and with your therapist on potential triggers such as conflicts with family members, limited contact with social supports, and reminders of loss. You may also want to reflect on any patterns in your behaviors when experiencing intense shifts in your mood, including increased substance use, isolating behaviors, and increased aggression. Reflecting on your triggers and patterns of unhelpful behavior can aid you in identifying the most appropriate emotion regulation skills. If you notice that you struggle with black and white thinking when in distress, it may help to focus on checking the facts of the situation and assessing the appropriateness of the situation. If you notice a pattern of loneliness and/or focusing on the negative aspects of life, it may help to consciously schedule and focus on identifying positive in your life. Regardless, I hope this gives you some ideas to brainstorm as the we enter fall/winter!

Resources:

  1. Berking, M., Wupperman, P., Reichardt, A., Pejic, T., Dippel, A., & Znoj, H. (2008). Emotion-regulation skills as a treatment target in psychotherapy. Behavior research and therapy, 46(11), 1230-1237.
  2. APA Dictionary of Psychology. (2020). Dictionary.Apa.Org. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from https://dictionary.apa.org/emotion-regulationCognitive Behavioral Therapy Los Angeles. 2021. 
  3. Opposite Action, Behavioral Activation, and Exposure. [online] Available at: <https://cogbtherapy.com/opposite-action-behavioral-activation-and-exposure> [Accessed 22 October 2021].
  4. Maidenberg, Emanuel. “’Tis the Season… for Emotion Regulation.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/belief-and-the-brain/201711/tis-the-season-emotion-regulation.
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