Emotional Awareness: How to Check In With Yourself During Conflict or High Stress

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By Grace Wood, MA

When you have conflict with someone, do you tend to lash out and stomp off? Do you withdraw? Perhaps you hurry to lean in and clear the air?

Conflict and stress are a normal part of life. However, some people struggle more than others with managing their emotions during times of high conflict and stress. 

How good are you at staying clear on what’s going on with you in those moments? Is emotional awareness a skill you know how to use?

It’s okay if you aren’t sure. Many of us have little idea of why stress incites certain feelings in us. We’re often surprised at how hurt, reactionary, or offended we become when communication gets tough.

Fortunately, the better we are at checking in with ourselves and becoming emotionally self-aware, the more at peace we’ll be and the happier our relationships will be.

How do you go about emotionally checking in with yourself?

These tips will get you started:

Ask yourself “How do I feel about this situation?”

Seems too simple, right? Maybe, but don’t skip this step. Slow down and let yourself sit with the question. Stew a bit on your response.

You may find that you’re not as sure as you thought about what emotion you’re feeling.

You could say you were “bothered,” “sad,” or “hurt,” and then move on. But, linger for a minute and clearly name how you feel.

Reflect on which emotions rise the most and feel strongest. Try to be specific, while defining and differentiating the emotions as clearly as you can. Ask yourself questions such as these:

  • Do I feel combative or aggressive?

  • Do I want to avoid or resist the emotions rising me?

  • Are the emotions I have curious and collaborative?

Emotional vocabulary matters. Clearly identifying your feelings helps you recognize and communicate your emotional needs more effectively.

Check in with, but don’t dive into, your emotions

What does that mean? Stress-based emotions can be intense. To deal with them appropriately usually requires a bit of perspective. As you’re looking at yourself and assessing how you feel, back up a little. Consciously ‘look at’ your feelings and responses as if you were viewing them from the outside. Try to be as objective as possible.

The goal is to acknowledge your emotions. Allow them to inform you, not overwhelm you.

Be an observer, not a fixer

When emotions run high, we can suppress or bury them, ignore them, get upset with ourselves or others, and even indulge in a lot of self-blaming and shame if we aren’t careful.

Checking in on your emotions through mindful observation helps interrupt all of that. It keeps emotions available without subjecting them to judgment.

Essentially, you remain present and attentive to what’s happening inside you. You can then allow the emotions to exist and give yourself permission to be where you are.

Experience your feelings and accept them. It is a key part of knowing how emotions support you or get in your way.

Notice what’s happening in your body for more emotional insight

Your body will tell you a lot about how you are feeling…if you will stop to notice it.  Aside from just observing and naming the emotion, notice your arms and legs, areas of tension in your neck and shoulders, discomfort in your stomach, your facial expression, and clenched or tightened muscle groups. What’s going on with your pulse? Your breathing? Do you feel grounded or physically disconnected?

These factors matter and inform your emotions. Simply stopping to tune into your body can help you recognize unhelpful reactions and change course for the sake of connection and cooperation in your relationships.

Seek cognitive clarity: Triggers, habits, and self-talk

When you are emotionally invested in a partner or other high-stress situation, it’s easy to get stuck emotionally and react irrationally. Thus, you are well-served if you can clearly determine how your emotions build and spill over during tough interactions.

Train yourself to recognize emotional build up. In other words, reflect on what was said, seen, thought, or done prior to stressful circumstances. Ask yourself what was going on before you felt anger, disgust, dismissal, offense, etc.

What triggers you? Which patterns of interaction lead up to fights or play out as you disagree? What are you saying in your head about how you feel about yourself or how you perceive the other person thinks about you?

Finally…

Improving emotional awareness for yourself is vital to healthy relationships. Don’t skip this journey. Seek guidance and support, if needed.

Journaling and working with a therapist are particularly helpful as you practice checking in with yourself. Both can greatly enhance your self-confidence, contextualize your experiences, and help shape more meaningful relationships. As you become more aware and emotionally intelligent you will likely discover that are living a happier and more deeply connected life.

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Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, helps couples and individuals learn how to navigate high conflict situations with different strategies. If you are struggling with identifying your emotions and communicating your feelings effectively to others, Grace can help guide you through this process. Give her a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment with her online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page.