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What's the Commotion About Emotions?

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Imagine a typical day a couple of months ago. Within a couple of hours after waking up, you would have already experienced a range of emotions. Maybe you picked up a cup of your favorite coffee from the local deli, which made you happy, while more traffic than usual slowed your commute and caused you to be late to work, making you angry. And as the day continued, you most likely experienced many other emotions as situations and events unfolded.

But the challenges and changes we currently face are not typical, and handling them will cause many of us to experience more intense emotions more frequently, and they will be more difficult to manage. Understanding what emotions are, as well as how to identify and manage them, can help alleviate stress and productively navigate this temporary “new normal” of self-isolation and remote learning for children, teachers, and parents.

What Are Emotions?

Emotions are brain-based, subjective conscious states of being. They have four components: a subjective experience, an evaluation of that experience, a bodily reaction, and behavioral expression. The evaluation and ensuing expressions are shaded by our current contexts, culture, experiences, and belief systems.

The eight basic emotions are joy, sadness, trust, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, and anticipation. Each one varies along a spectrum of intensity. For example, the less intense version of joy is serenity, and the more intense version would be ecstasy. Our ability to identify and express these emotions has a profound effect on our relationships with ourselves and with others, and on how we react to and solve problems.

Strategies for Recognizing, Naming, and Managing Emotions

  1. Teach a developmentally appropriate vocabulary. Using the eight basic emotions as a framework, teach students to under- stand and name their emotions. For young- er students, keep it simple: I feel sad. As students get older, introduce blends of the basic emotions to name more complex feelings.
  2. Practice emotion regulation strategies. Emotional expressions in response to intense or uncomfortable emotions may appear to be automatic, but with practice we can regulate them. Body-calming practices help guide our reactions and build self-awareness about how we respond to emotions and why. These include breathing techniques, body scans, and visualization to remain present.
  3. Coping mechanisms. Physical movement, writing, reading, painting, drawing, and music are all proven ways to successfully manage our emotions. Something as simple as doodling on a piece of paper in the moment can be a non-disruptive way of reducing stress and anxiety.

It’s important to remember that the situations we are experiencing with the coronavirus is temporary, and despite the hardships it creates, we can take deep breaths, acknowledge our emotions, and support each other in navigating and making the best of this unusual time

Learning to identify and manage emotions is a critical skill set that contributes to our success in school, work, and life in general.

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