Emotional Regulation & Art: Using Art As A Coping Mechanism


Have your emotions ever spun out of control? If you are human, of course, they have! Can you believe emotional regulation is something we are not born with? Usually, emotions and moods are used interchangeably.  But today, I want to clarify my perspective of emotions.

What are emotions?

-Usually caused by a specific event
-Sometimes the feeling is very brief
-Specific such as happiness, sadness, anger…
-Action-oriented in nature
-Usually accompanies by distinct facial expressions

 What is emotional regulation?

Emotional regulation is the ability to maintain and modulate internal and external conflict involving an intensity and expression of emotions. Internal conflicts are simply you vs. yourself.  Your struggle is within.  For example, you may “believe” you will not pass the class or exam, graduate from high school or your physical standards is not worthy enough to wear a certain type of outfit. External conflicts are battles or struggle against someone or something.

Self Awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize your emotions and know your strengths, limits, and weaknesses. Before you can use coping mechanisms, you have to first check-in with yourself.  What does a check-in look like?  Before you can change anything about yourself, you must have an open unapologetic discussion with yourself.  Ask yourself, what are my strengths and weaknesses? Or ask for feedback from a loved one. It is the ability to have a better understanding of yourself to recognize the moments when your emotions are high. Self-awareness is the foundation of personal growth and success.  Just like most things, self-awareness is a life long journey of learning about ourselves. But once you increase your ability of self-awareness and areas in your life that needs improvement, you learn and develop skills to help regulate your emotions.

Emotional Regulation Skills

The ability to regulate your emotions does not happen overnight.  It is truly a life long process, which requires a lot of practice.  There are emotional regulation skills that may work for you, but not work for the next person.  And again, this goes back to self-awareness.  As a general rule, I tell my clients to practice their skills while they are calm, and with progression (not perfection) they are able to apply the skills when necessary.  But also, to incorporate healthy habits daily.
During one of my training classes, I learned the STOP technique.
S– Stop what you are doing.
T– Take a few deep breathes.  Count slowly to 3 or say “in” and “out” (while breathing).
O– Observe what is happening, to include your thoughts, feeling, and emotions.
P– Proceed with something that will help you at the moment: say a prayer, a cup of coffee or tea, call a friend, journal, paint, etc… Here is a list of coping skills to print off.

Using art as a coping mechanism

While art therapy has its own field, you can use the benefits of art to express your creative side. I became interested in art after the move to California.  The move brought about a lot of changes in such a short period of time.  From my personal experience, using art has helped with:
Distraction: I found myself wandering off thinking about how, when, what, and where.  Art can help center your mind on what is going on at the present moment.  In return, art helped decrease my anxiety and cognitive distortions.
Self-care:  Art became my hobby and helped ground me during the times where I felt stuck (in my own mind (internal conflict)).  I am a firm believer in self-care and giving myself the time and space I need to just “be.”
Gratifications: The creation of something beautiful, but more importantly something that was created by me is instant gratification.  Gratifications bring a lot of meaning and purpose to my life.  Some gratifications require me to use my best personal skills and some teach me how to learn other skills, which enhances me to use a sense of “flow” (being near-meditative).

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