a man sits quietly meditating in a clear bubble while chaos happens all around him

Emotional Regulation Tips

I recently went through training at work and the guest speaker was a psychologist who specialized in working with corporate teams. He led us through an exercise to manage our emotional triggers, and I wanted to share with the heart failure community!

Good for all of us

Not only is it good for all of us to understand what is triggering, but people with heart failure have a negative cardio impact upon experiencing negative emotions. The reality is that, in my opinion, it takes two people to have a reaction. While certain situations may be provoking, it is (in my opinion) ultimately our decision on the lasting emotional response we will have. Perhaps if we understood what was driving things we might be able to calm down quicker and not reach the upper registers.

What does research show?

Why does this matter? Research shows that emotions impact your recovery and risk of future cardiac events.1 For instance, anger can raise heart rate and blood pressure, putting extra pressure on your heart, and sometimes causing chest pain.1 The goal of heart failure medicinal therapy is to relax the heart; we want to do what we can to avoid having it work harder than necessary.

The exercise

Here is my summary of the exercise!

  1. External trigger: a moment of awareness, perceived through one's senses (i.e. sight, sound, smell, taste and/or touch.)
  2. Internal button: an interpretation of a perception has its basis in previous emotional experiences.
  3. Underlying feeling: a characteristic way of perceiving and interpreting that is based on one's history of interacting with self and world.

We give it meaning

As an example, let's say that you feel aggravated when you don't get an answer from a colleague. The interpretation of this could be 'I will fail.' The underlying feeling might be that 'Failure is not an option. If I fail, ___ will happen.' However, that might not be true. That might be the result of pressures we had as children, pressures from our community, etc. If we were able to see the situation for what it is, then we could hypothetically choose whether to become aggravated or not. We are the ones that give it meaning!

Bringing baggage

Another example might be if someone says your idea is stupid and you get very angry. Maybe the trigger is someone not liking your idea, the interpretation is that this person is attacking you, and the underlying feeling is that you are not smart enough, good enough, etc. In the latter case, you are getting angry because of baggage you are bringing to the situation; not based on your interactions.

Making better decisions

Perspective and values

I hope this perspective is helpful. We can use this skill to objectively evaluate a decision and decide on the emotional response we want to have. Not only then can we act in ways that are best for our cardiac health, but also in ways that align with our core values and who we are.

Think of it like this - our brain is a house. We have to let all guests in, but we decide who gets to stay. One of the ways I've found to help me cope is to find ways to be optimistic. CHF is so so HARD; however, it does have a habit of forcing us into healthier paths. One of the healthier paths might force us to have better control of our emotions, which not only helps our heart but all of our relationships as well!

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