While technical graphics on the concept of emotional regulation abound, I believe overly clinical or technical-looking materials can often make people feel bored, overwhelmed, worried, or pathologized. I created these resources for educators and clinicians as approachable, nonclinical visual aids for teaching about emotions and emotional regulation to all age groups.
Many of these resources are useful with a wide variety of ages, and are adaptable to personal use, classroom, and clinical settings because the resources are approachable, easy to understand, and fun!
Results of a recent study confirmed what has long been suspected: “neurodegeneration underpins disease progression when major depressive disorder is left untreated,” In layman’s…
Our minds and our bodies are intimately connected. In a world that is constantly firing stress signals at us (Hint: just about all advertising is…
Everyone Feels Overwhelmed Sometimes
Even though most humans have had both experiences (getting extremely upset or shutting down) in response to overwhelming emotion, most of us tend to respond to highly distressing situations by consistently returning to one end of the spectrum or the other.
Therapists call these two extremes hypoarousal and hyperarousal. Hypoarousal occurs when we shut down. Our heart rate slows down, our thoughts may become foggy or unclear, and we may find ourselves with nothing to say and no strong feeling in particular. On the other extreme, hyperarousal is, just like it sounds, the opposite of this. Heart rates rise, tears come uncontrollably, and we may talk very fast or with a very strained voice. In a hyperaroused state, thoughts may race and we may find ourselves frantic to express ourselves.
Some theorists propose that our attachment style (read more about attachment styles and access my visual interpretation of the spectrum here) may predict which extreme is a person’s default response to being pushed beyond their window of tolerance. This theory proposes that individuals who are avoidant in attachment style have learned, during childhood, to respond to conflict by shutting down and checking out, because in their family of origin, they learned this was the most effective way to preserve connection with a caregiver. On the other end of the spectrum, individuals who were better able to access care in childhood by expressing big emotions are more likely to default to a hyper-aroused state when interpersonal conflict pushes them to their window of tolerance.
Stress Weakens Our Capacity to Regulate Our Emotions
When we are under high levels of stress, our window of tolerance (i.e. out ability to regulate our emotions) shrinks. A healthy window of tolerance that might have been wide open with lots of room for self-regulation before we were under stress becomes compressed, and we may find ourselves losing our temper or bursting into tears more often.
If this stress is short term, it’s likely that our ability to regulate our emotions will return to normal once the stressor has passed, however, in the case of chronic stress or trauma, the help of mental health treatment or additional resources may be needed to develop a greater capacity to regulate emotions.