How to get better at coping with emotions during change
As David Bowie's infamous 1971 song 'Changes' suggests, changes are constant at any age, and it is important to accept this fact.
With change comes many different and valid emotions. Change can sometimes be exciting and positive and other times we can find it overwhelming, scary and sometimes intimidating. Different changes – for instance, organisational changes - lead to various emotions and experiences that we may not have planned. The good news is, the science suggests it is possible to navigate uncertainty and to tame our emotions when they become unhelpful. In fact, we can start managing our emotions right now by simply dialling up our curiosity and learning to accurately label them.
Want to know how? Simply take a deep breath, maybe drink some juice, as we talk feelings guided by our Oranges Wheel of Emotions (OWE)!
The importance of naming our emotions
The act of labelling our emotions can dampen down the amygdala’s response, which is the part of our brain that hijacks our rational, thinking part of our brain. When this happens, we’re not able to think clearly or regulate our emotions as effectively.
So, what are the emotions you're experiencing? Maybe it’s the feeling of worry, maybe frustration, uncertainty, loneliness, sadness or even anger. When trying to label your emotions, notice the thoughts running through your mind. Consider how your emotions can show up in your body - are you holding tension in your shoulders? Are you clenching your jaw? Or are you utterly exhausted?
Dr. Dan Siegel - Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA - coined the phrase, ‘name it to tame it’. While psychologist David Rock - Co-founder & Chief Executive Officer NeuroLeadership Institute- states, ‘when you experience significant internal tension and anxiety, you can reduce stress by up to 50% by simply noticing and naming your state.’ Furthermore, Susan David, Ph.D. - author of ‘Emotional Agility: Get unstuck, embrace change, and thrive in work and life’, stresses the importance of recognising we are feeling an emotion so that we don’t have to be the emotion. For example, instead of saying ‘I’m angry’, try ‘I'm noticing I’m feeling angry’.
Naming our emotions, we OWE it to ourselves
Naming our emotions can be hard work if we don’t have the proper vocabulary or resources to do so. Thankfully, scientific research helped consolidate these emotions into eight domains that make the basis for the OWE.
As always, The Oranges Toolkit seeks to provide practical tools to make the application of science easier, to improve wellbeing. This tool is based on the work of Ph. D and psychologist Robert Plutchnik (1980), where he identified eight primary emotions that work as the basis for all others. Like many things in life, there is a duality with emotions, hence we can face each other as follows:
• sadness is the opposite of joy
• trust is the opposite of disgust
• fear is the opposite of anger
• surprise is the opposite of anticipation
There are at least two juicy ways to use the OWE, either by simply looking into the individual segments, or by going a step further and studying the interconnectivity between them. If we place our attention on the segment with the eight primary emotions previously mentioned at the core, we can discover that there are secondary emotions to these first domains. We may for example be feeling joyful, yet joy is an emotion that can fluctuate from ecstasy to serenity. Therefore, when naming our emotions, we can start by identifying our core feeling and then move to understand its intensity.
There are more complex, interconnected emotions that result from the combination of the secondary emotions or intensities. For example, feeling optimistic might be a result of feeling serene and showing interest towards something in the future, such as a change in your career.
There are thousands of valid emotions that we can experience through change, and this is just a starting guide to help us increase our emotional awareness and literacy. You may like to download the emotions wheel PDF below and keep it handy as you navigate and name different emotions.
Taming our emotions
Once we recognise how we are feeling, it is as important to accept those emotions, rather than trying to ‘push them away’. It’s important to know that as humans, having an emotional response to our environment is natural; we’re actually designed to have an emotional response.
It can be helpful to think about our emotions as simply ‘data’. Like any good spreadsheet, this data tells us information. It’s also important to know that there’s no ‘bad emotion’. There’s nothing inherently wrong with negative emotions. What can be ‘bad’ or unhelpful is the way we react to those emotions. For instance, if you’re feeling frustrated, lashing out at a retail assistant, family member or co-worker is unlikely to be helpful for anyone involved.
To tap deeper into the mind and help ease the squeeze of those internal emotions, here are some complementary science-based resources from us:
- Learn the tools for living in the now and focus your attention on the present moment, without judgement. Gain tools to better focus attention to effectively manage emotions.
- Learn about the science of laughter and language, and how to use your body and brain to generate energy, release tension and reset the negativity button. Understand how emotions impact our energy and explore practical ways to shift our mood through sleep, movement, nutrition and nurturing quality relationships.
Want more practical tips from the oranges toolkit?
If you want to equip your team with proactive wellbeing and self-care strategies to ease empathy fatigue, talk to us about our new webinar navigating empathy fatigue. This science-based session is relevant to anyone, and is particularly helpful for those who work in the health or community care sector
These are only snippets of the wide range of workplace wellbeing programs that we offer to help support people and organisations experiencing change. Learn more about our programs here.
Seek help when it's needed
The Oranges Toolkit offers a range of science-based workplace wellbeing programs focusing on practical actions you can take to build resilience, energy, and emotional agility.
Remember there is help all around. If you or someone you know needs extra support, we recommend contacting your workplace Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a qualified health practitioner, or:
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
- Visit Head to Health for a directory of mental health care providers and COVID-19 support
If you have any questions about our products and services, please contact us.