IMPROVE the Moment
We continue a series on how to effectively manage emotions, so that we can engage more thoughtfully in relationship. All of the skills we discuss are designed to support the ultimate goal of wisdom (see post titled, “Emotion Regulation 1.0”).
For several posts, we looked at various awareness skills, and then yesterday, we began looking at crisis management skills. Today we look at our second survival skill: IMPROVE the moment. Yes, we have another acronym for you. Use Imagery, Meaning, Prayer (serenity), Relaxation, One crisis at a time, Vacation, and Encouragement: IMPROVE.
When your emotions get hijacked, it takes tremendous effort to regulate them. Keep in mind, though, that your body can’t stay hyped up for very long, and your emotions will naturally calm down after a bit. Then you can hop on IMPROVE-ing the Moment with a vengeance.
Zoom In or Out
Notice how some of the components of this skill are designed to provide immediate relief and others are designed to restore peace over the longer haul. When crisis occurs because we’re too zoomed into the situation, the short term regulators are usually the best choice, and when crisis occurs because we’re too zoomed out and focused on the long-term potential catastrophe, it helps to plan for longer-term relief.
Components to IMPROVE-ing
Let’s take a brief look at each of these components.
Imagery: This skill can take several forms, such as 1) Imagine your favorite vacations spot for a few minutes; 2) Imagine your older, wiser self doing what you wish your panicked self could do; 3) Imagine your current self comforting the younger, fearful part of you.
Meaning: Make a list of all the meaningful things in your life. Keep it at the ready for review when life threatens to get you bogged down in the moment.
Prayer: Even if you’re not a religious person, quieting yourself for a minute to consciously consider the bigger picture of which you’re a part can bring perspective to the happenings of the moment. Remember the serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Relaxation: What brings calm to your body? Exercise? Reading? Hobbies? Calling a friend? Tea?
One crisis at a time: Remember to be one-mindful (see post by that title). Multitasking just doesn’t work. Slow down. Focus on one problem, or one step of the resolution, before moving onto another.
Vacation: Plan one…and follow through.
Encouragement: Coach yourself. When you become aware that your self-talk is negative, ask, “What would kindness sound like?” Make this a regular practice, and before long, being kind to yourself will be your default.
Do What Your Body Needs
Trust that your body simply can’t continue to be on highest alert for very long, and certainly not without consequence. The body keeps the score, as Bessel Van Der Kolk explains in his book by that title. Do you know why zebras don’t get ulcers (see Robert Sapolsky’s book by that title)? Because when they escape from the threat chasing them, their stress hormones (mostly Cortisol) return to normal levels. Human bodies have more difficulty returning to normal after a Cortisol rush, and we need to consciously relax our system. IMPROVE the moment, and your body will be grateful.