Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Managing the Emotional Thermostat


     
By Rachel Baker

Self-care and coping are terms that get thrown around quite a bit. They are often presented as interchangeable, but, lo and behold, these two types of activities serve us in very different ways. In the most basic terms, self-care serves as a nurturing, preventative measure, whereas coping skills assist us in the heat of a triggering moment.
           
Let’s use a metaphor to illustrate this point. Imagine that you are a house. Your house has a physical body--the walls, roof, windows, and doors. Your house also has an internal emotional life, in this case, the temperature inside. We each have a unique temperature (emotional) range at which we feel comfortable. So how do we keep our houses in that comfortable zone?

You guessed it, self-care and coping! Self-care is all of the daily, weekly, monthly maintenance work you do on your house to make sure it has the capacity to stay in that comfortable temperature (emotional) range. You make sure that your windows and doors close securely to keep out the elements. You insulate your house. You set your thermostat to a comfy 72 degrees.

Self-care is the stuff that feels good and is good for us. Activities like spending time with loved ones, eating balanced meals, getting enough sleep, seeing a therapist, going to the doctor, joyfully moving our bodies, spending time in nature, making art, gardening, seeing a play, reading a good book, or anything else that brings a smile to our face is self-care. These activities keep our physical body and internal emotional life capable of maintaining our healthy, comfortable range.

OK, back to our house metaphor. Now imagine that all of a sudden, your AC unit breaks down in the middle of a heatwave. Time for coping skills! You might close your curtains, turn off all of the lights, and get out your backup fans.

Coping skills are the methods we use to deal with stressful situations. When our emotional thermostat shoots above our comfortable range and we feel angry, we might hit a punching bag, throw ice into a bathtub, take a vigorous walk (or stomp) around the block, or rip up an old phone book. When our emotional thermostat drops below our comfortable range and we feel sad or depressed, we might take a warm bath, call a friend, curl up with a good book, or listen to soothing music. After a stressful situation, coping skills help us get back to a content emotional temperature.

All in all, we need both self-care and coping skills. Following a daily or weekly self-care routine can minimize the opportunity for stressful moments. Of course, life is unpredictable. Sometimes our AC units break and we pull out our coping strategies. Self-care and coping look different for everyone. Trust your inner wisdom and start experimenting today!

Rachel Baker is a Staff Therapist at The Awakening Center who works with individuals and groups. Using a holistic approach, she strives to help clients discover a place of peace within. You can reach her at 773.929.6262 ext. 21 or at rachel.baker3523@gmail.com.


            

3 comments:

  1. What a great way to think about these two things. I have never thought of them as really separate ideas but this made it so clear. Great post.

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  2. Amy Grabowski, Director The Awakening CenterJuly 28, 2016 at 12:35 PM

    I love the analogy of the difference b/t self-care and coping skills! Thanks!

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  3. What a terrific metaphor! This analogy is exactly what I needed to explain the phenomenon to my sometimes overly inquisitive friends. Just being armed with the ability to communicate the phenomenon properly will be all the coping I need to succeed with my friends in the future. Thank you for your help.

    Ambrose @ Brown & Reaves Services, Inc.

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