If you suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, or teen Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), you might feel as though emotions come out of nowhere and that they are too chaotic to manage. It might feel like they are unpredictable and disrupting.
However, developing the skill of emotional awareness can provide a sense of control. By developing a relationship with your emotions, that is, become more aware of them, you can better understand what you are feeling and how to respond to them.
Emotional awareness is the skill of knowing what you are feeling, why you’re feeling it, and what physical sensations you are having as a result. This is a skill that can be cultivated over time, which allows you to identify and express what you are feeling moment by moment. It’s is also the ability to understand the relationship between what you are feeling and how you choose to behave.
Emotional awareness involves the ability to:
- Recognize your moment-to-moment emotional experience
- Handle all of your emotions without becoming overwhelmed
This is an essential skill for a teen!
The Brain and Anxiety
Whether you suffer from anxiety or not, the part of the brain responsible for reasoning, planning, judgment, and impulse control is still developing in adolescents. The frontal cortex, which performs these tasks, completes its growth during ages 23-26. This might explain a teen’s tendency to experiment with risky behavior, react impulsively, and make choices that stem from explosive feelings.
Cultivating emotional awareness can support the ability to respond versus react. In other words, becoming more aware of your feelings can help put some distance between the stimulus and your response.
Interestingly, emotional awareness has everything to do with anxiety and stress, which are the primary symptoms of PTSD. You won’t be able to manage your emotions unless you know how to manage stress. The two are inherently related. Because emotions are unpredictable, they can come on strongly at times and create a stressful experience. Learning how to manage emotions, similar to the ability to manage stress, depends first on your level of emotional awareness.
The inability to manage emotions can lead to dysfunctional coping mechanisms. Such as: drug use, drinking, cutting, aggression, and other forms of risky behavior. It can be challenging to manage feelings when they seem frightening or overwhelming. They might be accompanied by fear, helplessness, and powerlessness. These emotions might also lead to shutting down. Therefore, having tools that allow you to manage emotions and/or stress quickly can support your well-being.
The next two articles of this three part series will explore the consequences of avoiding emotions, the levels of emotional awareness, and tools to use when emotions become louder than thoughts.