“It’s hard to just say, ‘Ok, manage your emotions.’ Or, ‘Regulate your emotions.’ Because there are some guidelines to follow, some sort of steps to take in order to achieve that.” -Coach Gabriella Dennery MD
In today’s episode, Coaches Gabriella and Jill tackle emotional agility. What is emotional agility? How can we achieve it? What are the benefits? That is exactly what you will learn by listening to this episode! By tuning in to our emotions and naming them we can process and move through them with greater ease, instead of them hindering our day to day functioning. By utilizing the steps outlined in this episode we can get on the path towards emotional agility and thriving as our best selves.
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Podcast produced by: Amanda Taran
Please enjoy the full transcript below
Gabriella: It’s hard to say, okay, manage your emotions or regulate your emotions, because there are some guidelines to take, some kind of steps to take in order to achieve that.
Gabriella: Hi, my name is Gabriella Dennery, MD. Welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. I’m here with my co-lead coach, master-certified coach, Jill Farmer. We’re here talking about a timely topic, Jill, which is emotional agility. I could imagine that after a year of, woo, this pandemic year, social justice year, 18 months, if you will, and continuation of this pandemic era, emotional agility really becomes a tool and an asset to really hone in on and build. What do you think about that? What would be the way to start looking at it? What is emotional agility? What can we do about it?
Jill: Yeah, I love that. I love this as a topic, not because emotions are something that I’ve particularly been wildly comfortable with my whole life. If you’re listening, and you’re one of those people that’s just like, “Ah, emotions, they just drive me nuts. They get in the way of just thinking and doing what I want to do.” I totally relate. I’m somebody that would have described myself as not emotional, which really was my way of not identifying that I tend to be a bit emotionally avoidant. And so, I think this last, as you said, 18 months of what has been happening in our world, thanks to a pandemic, and all kinds of other issues that maybe we had not dealt with for a long time that we needed to deal with. We have had a great laboratory for being better at emotional agility.
I learned about the term emotional agility from author at Harvard University, a psychologist by the name of Susan David, and she wrote a really good book and talked about this term. My understanding of it, and how I take it in based on her concepts in this book is just getting better at letting our emotions inform us what they need to tell us without necessarily having them take over our thoughts, actions, decisions in a way that makes us feel out of control, and that we don’t have any agency. It is not ignoring or shoving down our emotions. Other psychologists that I’ve read and heard talk about this talk about emotional regulation.
Again, regulation does not mean stuffing them down. It just means having better understanding how we can work with our emotions, process our emotions, and move through our emotions, so that we can show up as our best selves, not as perfect selves. There’s not looking perfect all the time, but just show up as authentically as we can, in any given situation and do the best we can. What do you think?
Gabriella: In complete agreement. The word emotional regulation, which I’d also bumped into, it’s hard to label this thing, really, it’s hard to say, okay, manage your emotions, or regulate your emotions, because there are some guidelines to take, some kind of steps to take in order to achieve that, because there’s one way to say, okay, I don’t want to be ruled by my emotions, I want to be making decisions based on fear, or guilt, or frustration, or anything else for that matter, or sadness or anything like that. To be able to say, “Okay, what is going on?” First of all, identify what is going on, putting a word to it, a label to it, what are the judgments that I’m having? What are the thoughts that I’m having? Is there a pattern there? Are these thoughts more than likely are thoughts that are very old, they’re 10, 20, 30, 40 years old. They’re not just something that happened yesterday. How do I perceive myself in this situation? Have I been in this kind of situation before? etc., etc.
It’s not really about, as you said, letting the emotion take over, it’s really being able to start understanding, one, what the emotion is, or to be able to even label it identified, give it a name. Number two, is it a pattern, because that becomes very illuminating. I know in my own life, as I’m making some decisions today, even now, about my future, my next steps, etc., etc. There’s a lot of old pattern of shame and guilt that pops up. There’s old patterns of, “Well, I’m here to help people and I’m here to please people, but I’m okay not taking care of myself as a result, etc., etc.” It’s looking at old patterns, that are very old and how they influence my life now. And I think that being able to just identify them is a huge step in reducing the pressure, that the emotions and the thoughts and fears that go along with them, that turn in my head or turn in a person’s head can have moving forward, and it can become paralyzing.
A way to free that up is to move towards acceptance to say, this is what’s going on. Being able to identify it, being able to accept it, and then being able to say, “Okay, well, let me make a decision now based on a place of calm of peace, now that I know what’s going on inside.” So, that’s my take on it, and I think that it’s a very relevant topic because the whole world has been under pressure keg for a significant amount of time, unprecedented ways. And I think everybody feels it individually, everybody feels it collectively. In addition to what’s going on with individual lives and personal lives, too.
Jill, as far as ways to regulate, what would be first step or first coaching advice that you would give the client in terms of, okay, I think one of the questions you’ve asked before, is this helpful when somebody is in that crazy space of training ideas around and around and around and around? But then what would be another step, after asking that question, is this helpful?
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Jill: Well, you just hit the nail on the head in many ways. But one of the things you said that’s really clear, is that a lot of times our behavior or reactions to something is where we focus, but we don’t get down to what’s the emotion under the behavior or reaction. When I was co-leading a workshop three, four or five years ago, with a therapist, and one of the parts that she was sharing in the workshop, she had all the participants and I joined in because I needed it to. To get better about naming emotions, we need to note that often our default is to blame or shame, either someone else or ourselves or a situation. When we can get to the emotion that’s underneath that blaming or beating ourselves up or feeling ashamed, the emotion might be shamed. But a lot of times there’s sadness, there’s anger, and there’s a blend of emotions.
Susan David talks about this too. If we can just pause and name it, I’m feeling blank, mad, sad, glad. We start with those kind of overviews and whatever the individual ones. I actually googled a list of 50 different emotions. Sometimes I have to pull it out and look at that list and say, “What am I actually feeling?” Naming the emotion is really one of the most important steps because what we tend to do is skip that step, and then just start with all the reactions, thoughts, interactions with other people. And then that short circuits, the processing of the emotion. When we name the emotion, it helps us with the processing of the emotion. That’s one of the most important steps.
The other time is sometimes it’s really good with emotions and processing emotions to get out of our head. Exercise is fabulous. We know that exercise can metabolize stress hormones, literally, biochemically in our bodies, in ways that our thinking can’t, that’s a really good way. As well as connecting with somebody else. That’s one of the most important things we can do for emotional regulation. Can you talk a little bit more about that, about connecting as a way to get to that calmer place to be able to regulate our emotions?
Gabriella: Mm-hmm. Because sometimes you need to vent. [chuckles] Sometimes you just do, whether it’s with a coach or a therapist, or as you say, Jill, I like this word, trusted partner. I like that phrase, to be able to just give yourself that time to just express what is going on and not keep it bottled in. “Okay, I should have this under control.” Well, clearly not. So why not just start from that place. And then once everything is out, there are possibilities the doors kind of open up. Another way I think to emotionally regulate is journaling. Just write it out on a piece of paper, which is a good tool that a client of mine used to use whenever getting upset in an office situation or with interactions at work to really excuse me, cope, find this quiet space, a piece of paper and just write all the frustrations out, get that out of your brain, of your system, of your body. And so yes, trusted partner exercise, walk around the block, getting some fresh air, communing with nature. Do something to break the pattern. The break the pattern of thought of thinking of mulling around in the head 24/7 over the same thing, over and over again, really it’s the same thought swirling around multiple times. Then being able to approach the situation with a level head.
Jill, you bring up a very important point as to how you can break that pattern very easily, very quickly, by just getting out of your head and stop the thinking, and just break up the thinking. Any other techniques do you think?
Jill: I’ve just been reading Oprah’s new book, What Happened to You? I believe, and she wrote the book in conjunction with a psychiatrist who she’s collaborated with for a long time, Dr. Perry. One of the things they talked about that was so helpful to be reminded of is that, any kind of rhythmic activity actually can have a really meaningful effect, to be able to regulate when we’re in an agitated or activated state. Whether that’s dancing, in your case, as a professional musician, drumming, [chuckles] that comes in handy, it’s a really good way to process emotion, I would guess, you can tell us more about that. Walking, the rhythm of walking. Then, additionally, being in nature, in any form, even going outside and just looking at the clouds or noting what’s happening in the sky, or looking at a tree, or being in nature, and the rhythm of nature has been scientifically proven to help us to regulate and come back to that set point where we’re more calm, clear, connected, and more likely to show up authentically, as opposed to defensively or aggressively, or in a victim mentality, wherever we are in that emotional state that sometimes makes us feel like we’re dysregulated or off the path. What are your thoughts on that?
Gabriella: Well, I agree 100%, and I vote for the drums. There’s no question about that. But, yes, Jill, I think we covered it. And just some quick, easy, simple tools. When a person knows that they are out of sorts, if you’re feeling out of sorts, instead of trying to dig into a list of pros and cons or trying to make a “logical decision,” the decision will never come from there, at least not a good one. It is to break up that pattern, as you say.
Jill: Yeah, let’s just give you a quick reminder. Some of the things that we talked about, if you’re feeling emotionally intense. First of all, I just wanted to say too, if you find that you have what we call an outsized emotional reaction repeatedly to a situation, there may be some trauma there, and neither one of us will purport to be trauma experts. But the good news about trauma is, it doesn’t mean you’re broken. We’re having so much more information evolving all the time, it just means that’s the time to bring in the professional, the therapist, the psychologist to help get some healing from whatever that situation was that might be causing that. I do want to say, if you’re finding yourself in that experience, I’ve done it many times, gotten support in that way, and it has been life changing. And it does not mean something is wrong with you. It just means there’s a place where there’s opportunity for healing and forward momentum.
And then we talked about emotional agility, naming the emotion and then processing the emotion through things like exercise, some form of connection to another human, we emotionally regulate much more effectively when we’re in a safe situation with somebody else we trust, that can be really helpful. Some kind of rhythm movement tends to be a really good way for us to process emotion and get centered or regulated again. Being in nature, and then journaling. It can be so helpful when we’re in the midst of something that really has us emotionally triggered to pull up that journal. That was a great tip from Gabriella.
We hope these are helpful to you. We want to hear your ideas on this subject as well. Reach out to us on social media and tell us what stood out to you in this conversation and what ideas you have to share with us. Until next time, I’m Jill Farmer on DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.
Amanda: Hi, this is Amanda Taran. I’m the producer of the DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. Please don’t forget to like and subscribe. Thank you for listening.