Article By Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW, Guest Expert and author of the award-winning book It’s Not Always Depression.
4 Minute Read
Emotions are powerful forces that affect the mind, brain, and especially the body. They have power to cause great distress and symptoms like depression and chronic anxiety. Or, they can help us live more authentic and openhearted lives. Whether emotions help or hurt us depends on if we validate or bury them. To make sure burying emotions is not our only coping mechanism, we need education and tools to safely work with emotions. The Change Triangle is my favorite tool to help others and myself improve our emotional wellbeing.
Grounded in current science, the Change Triangle is a step-by-step guide to working with emotions. We can turn to the Change Triangle to manage upsetting moments and when looking to understand ourselves more deeply. We can turn to it to feel more calm, openhearted, and authentic. Working the Change Triangle over time builds resilience and emotional stability. With practice comes change. So here are 5 steps to start working the Change Triangle right now:
1. Check in with your mind and body.
Make a mental or actual note in your daily calendar that reminds you to stop what you’re doing and take stock in your mental state. Are you feeling something? Are you worrying about the future? Are you in the present moment experiencing and curious in the world around you? Are you stuck in a past memory? Are you beating yourself up with negative thoughts? Just notice.
2. Gently notice your breathing.
Notice if your breathing is shallow or deep. Are you breathing fast or slow? Does the air feel like it’s going into your upper chest or filling up your entire core. If you want to experiment, try deepening your breathing: Imagine sending the air all the way down to your feet. Allow the air to fill up your entire abdominal cavity, front and back, making your entire core expand out in all directions. Work to make your stomach pop out like a buddha and your chest to stay down. Now hold your breathe for one or two seconds and notice the internal pressure caused by the air you inhaled. Now slowly exhale through pursed lips, like you’re blowing on hot soup. Feel yourself relax. Or maybe that’s not relaxing for you. Just notice. On the next breath, play with this technique to breathe in a way that feels most relaxing for you.
3. Notice areas of tension and calm in your body.
As you breathe slowly and deeply, scan your body from head to toe. Gently notice, without judging yourself or trying to fix anything, where in your body you notice areas of tension. Now scan your body again slowly to notice where you feel most calm, solid, or still. Maybe you feel calm in your core? Maybe the only calm place is on the tip of your toe, or your elbow, or ear lobe. It’s all fine. Once you find a calm, still, or solid sense inside, breathe and relax into it for 10 seconds or more if you can. Allow yourself to slow way down and enjoy it.
4. Scan your body for feelings.
Feelings can be sensed in the body or in the mind. Your only goal now is to name and validate the feelings you notice. As you very slowly scan your mind and body, ask yourself:
Do I sense anxiety? Then scan your mind and body for anxiety.
Do I sense sadness? Then scan your mind and body for sadness.
Do I sense fear? Then scan your mind and body for fear.
Do I sense anger? Then scan your mind and body for anger.
Do I sense joy? Then scan your mind and body for joy.
Do I sense excitement? Then scan your mind and body for excitement.
Do I sense shame? Then scan your mind and body for parts of you that hold shame.
Do I sense guilt? Then scan your mind and body for any parts of you that hold guilt.
Do I sense sexual excitement?Then scan your mind and body for sexual excitement.
Do I sense calm? Then scan your mind and body to find calm areas.
Name all the emotions you can and feel free to use your own words to describe the emotions you notice. If there are a lot of emotions there, imagine you grow and expand to accommodate all of them with lots of air and space in between each emotion.
5. Look at the Change Triangle and take a guess which corner best represents your state of mind.
Review each corner of the Change Triangle and the C’s below the triangle to identify where you think you are right now. Remember, all worthwhile endeavors take practice. If you're not sure, take a guess.
For every step above, strive to approach yourself with curiosity and kindness and put aside self-judgments the best that you can.
Congratulations! You just worked The Change Triangle! This is a practice not a perfect so A+ just for reading!!
Hilary Jacobs Hendel is a certified psychoanalyst and AEDP psychotherapist and supervisor, as well as the inspiration behind our Wiggle Warrior Training. Learn more about her contributions to our programming here >>
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