Published: December 3, 2018 by Eric Klinger
Emotional Self-Regulation: A Key Component in Preventing Drug Abuse
As we’ve said before, many people begin abusing drugs and alcohol as a way of self-medicating their physical and emotional health issues. But what if people were given the tools to cope with their negative thoughts and behaviors without turning to substances? Providing individuals with the means to self-regulate their emotions goes a long way toward prevention, and it’s a key component in Unison Health’s continuum of care approach.
Emotional self-regulation refers to a person’s ability to cope with changing situations and respond in ways that are appropriate to their surroundings. Everyone experiences anger or frustration from time to time, and most people come to understand how to express those feelings in socially acceptable ways. For some people, though, self-regulating their emotions is more complicated. They may have experienced some emotional trauma in their lives, or they may suffer from depression or anxiety disorders. As part of our commitment to treating the whole person — their mind, body, and spirit — the licensed professionals at Unison Health employ a range of therapeutic strategies designed to help people regulate their emotions in health ways.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Emotional Well-Being
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the primary approaches Unison Health uses to help clients regulate their emotions more effectively. Here’s how it works: In any social situation, we might have an automatic negative thought that can cause us to experience anxiety. CBT encourages the individual to immediately address that thought, assess its accuracy, and often times dismiss it as being irrational. Through practice, a person can then better regulate their emotional response, because he or she can quickly dispel the negative thoughts and move forward.
Let’s say you’re at work, and your co-worker walks right past you in the morning without saying hello. For a split second, you might think this person is angry with you, or she doesn’t like you anymore. Of course, you’ll immediately think about that for a moment and say to yourself, “Wait a minute — I didn’t do anything to upset her. It wouldn’t make sense for her to be angry with me. She’s most likely upset with someone else, or maybe she’s just in a bad mood.” For most people, this all happens right away, usually without the person even realizing it’s happening.
People with depression and anxiety, though, have difficulty immediately dismissing those negative thoughts. They might dwell on them instead, and even extrapolate them out into other aspects of their lives. A person with depression and anxiety might say, “My co-worker doesn’t like me anymore. I’m not a likable person. I’m always ruining my relationships…” And so on. Over time, obviously, this makes it even more difficult to self-regulate their emotions, which can lead to inappropriate displays of emotion. By employing the tools of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a person can learn how to rationally assess their negative thoughts and quickly dismiss them — or address them — leading to healthier interactions all around.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Emotional Regulation
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a modified form of CBT, and it’s adapted to treat people with a range of interpersonal challenges, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders. DBT adds elements of mindfulness to CBT’s rational approach, including the concept of radical acceptance, in which the present moment is taken simply for what it is, without the judgment that can lead to more anxiety. If you’re feeling stressed due to your negative thoughts, for example, you simply accept that stress and allow it to pass by. Struggling against it further only leads to more stress, which makes emotional self-regulation even more difficult.
The teaching of mindfulness is combined with problem-solving techniques designed to help the individual dismiss his or her negative thoughts. Over time, this approach can become second nature to the person, and he or she can take on the stresses of life while still effectively regulating emotional impulses.
Because they keep people from turning to drugs or alcohol as a means of coping with stress, both of these approaches can go a long way toward preventing substance abuse. If you believe someone you know could benefit from one of these therapies, or if you’d like to look into it for yourself, please contact Unison Health today. Call us at 419-214-HOPE to learn more!