My clients know this exercise as “Name It To Tame It”. I’ve changed it to SNAP to acknowledge some of the challenges with the previous acronym, however, the basic idea is the same.
This exercise uses both mindfulness and reframing skills to calm anxiety, anger, and sadness, but it can be used in a lot of instances from curbing emotional eating due to boredom to managing anger during an interpersonal challenge to reducing anxiety before a presentation.
Mindfulness and reframing both redirect energy from the emotional centers of the brain to the thinking centers of the brain. Research has shown that exercises like this one not only help to rewire the brain but also retrain the emotional center.
Step 1: Scan your body for whatever sensations are coming up for you.
In this first step, spend about 20 seconds or so scanning your body from top to bottom, just noticing what different areas feel like. If safe to do so, closing your eyes can help to block out incoming visual stimulus which often helps to tune into sensations in the body.
What are you noticing? Is there tightness or pain in certain areas? Is there any sensation in your jaw, throat, head, stomach, chest?
Do your best to notice with curiosity and without judgment. This is easier said than done. We are trained from day one on this earth to assign normative weight to things: This sensation is bad. That sensation feels good. The other feels overwhelming. It might be difficult at first to notice without judging, but keep at it. This skill is like a muscle, the more we work it, the stronger it gets.
Try this trick: If a Martian had just landed and asked you to describe what’s going on, how would you do that? How would you describe that feeling in your stomach? Would it be a tightness? A swirling sensation? Pinball? Does the sensation move? If so, what direction does it move in? What color would it be? How big or small is it? Where exactly is it located? Can you feel the edges of the sensation?
This step takes a bit longer the first times that you do it. Eventually, you’ll be able to scan and note these sensations more quickly.
Step 2: Name the emotion.
Did you know that brain scans reveal that simply naming an emotion reduces the intensity of that emotion? There are several possible reasons for this. One might be that simply considering and naming an emotion requires the use of the frontal (thinking) lobe, which draws flow away from the emotional centers of the brain.
Considering the sensations that you noticed in step 1, what emotion does this feel like? Anxiety? Sadness? Boredom? Anger? What makes you say that? Are you aware of more than one emotion? Oftentimes there are buddy-emotions occurring at the same time—sadness and anxiety, for example.
It can sometimes feel as though we are made of our emotions, but we are not! Emotions are incredibly important tools that give us a ton of necessary information about how we see ourselves, others, and the world around us. When we acknowledge these emotions, we want to note their separateness from who we are. When naming these emotions, use language such as: “I am having the feeling of. . . .” or “ I am noticing . . . .” So that with the emotion of anxiety, for example, you might say, “I am having the feeling of anxiety.” rather than, “ I am anxious.”
Step 3: Allow the emotion in.
It’s interesting that we try and avoid or get rid of our challenging emotions. Every human emotion has an evolutionary purpose that keeps us alive. Fear/anxiety tells us that there is potential danger. Sadness tells us that we have unmet needs. Anger tells us that something feels unfair or that something is blocking our way to a need. We need all of these emotions, to survive. Getting rid of any one of them would be disastrous. Still, we’d definitely like to feel in control of them at times.
Have you ever heard the saying, “What we resist, persists?” Never is that more true than with emotions. The more we try to sweep them under a rug or lock them in a closet, the more powerful and challenging they become.
In step 3, we are going to accept these emotions and allow them in. We are going to make room for the fact that each emotion is important and that, if we are feeling a particular emotion at a particular time, there is a reason for it. Now, we’re not trying to make sense of the emotion here and now, necessarily, we are just accepting the emotion as a natural and necessary part of our human experience and as tool to guide us. Mentally invite the emotion in, let it have a seat. If you have a minute, you might try and listen to see what it is trying to say. Is your anxiety telling your that you feel in danger? Well, then it makes sense that your body is trying to prepare you for that. While it’s true that most things aren’t as dangerous as our brains tell us they are, in this case anxiety is really trying to help you in the only way that it knows how. . .by sounding off alarms. Rather than try to shove it out the door, invite it in, thank it and realize it’s supposed to be there.
Step 4: Perspective. See the emotion from a different perspective.
Step 1 teaches us that emotions are not good or bad, they just are. Yes, it takes some time to get there fully, but imagine a life without emotion. Step 2 teaches us that emotions are not a part of us, we notice and name them but feelings will always ebb and flow and change. Step 3 teaches us that each emotion is an important tool for survival.
So, step 4 tells us to look at emotions, not as our enemies but our friends. They come, they go, they teach. . .and while they may do all of this in an imperfect way, they are just trying to help us survive.
Have you ever watched a drop of food coloring enter a glass of water? What happens? The color disperses into the water and you have. . .colored water. Now, what happens when you drop that same droplet into the ocean? It dissipates imperceptibly. You can’t even see it.
Imagine that your emotion as that drop of dye. When we think of ourselves as small vessels, it’s easy to be overtaken by an emotion. If we think of ourselves as the ocean, that one drop dissipates quickly as we realize that we are more than that limited emotion. We are a vast center with droplets of emotion dropping in and then flowing away.
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