Education Week: How we can use emotions as a guide


Psychologist Debra Theobald McClendon presented a class during BYU’s Education Week on how strong emotions can help create a healthy life.

McClendon explained that emotions aren’t bad but necessary because they help us “adapt successfully to life circumstances.” It is when we lose control of or misinterpret emotions that strong emotion can be harmful, according to the presenter.

“Emotions communicate to us something important,” said McClendon. “‘Over’ anything —overzealous, overbearance — is not good. Don’t be “over” anything.”

Psychologist Debra Theobald McClendon presented a class during BYU’s Education Week on how strong emotions can help create a healthy life and three ways in which participants can handle these emotions. (Maddi Driggs)



McClendon offered three steps to regulating emotions:

First, self soothe

Make a list of self-soothing activities. McClendon recommended that all people — whether in an emotional upheaval or calm time of life — make this list. She said these soothing activities should be based in the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste.

McClendon warned individuals not to overindulge on these activities, especially in regard to taste.

“Use it to soothe, not cope. Avoid the activity that makes you binge,” said McClendon.

Soothing activities are individual and one category may be appropriately more full of activities than other categories, according to McClendon. 

“Whichever sense works best for you, focus on that one,” she said.

Self-soothing activities can include reading, taking a hot shower, looking through photo albums, or listening to children laugh.

Second, create positive sentiment activities

McClendon said these activities are directed toward creating a general lifestyle that brings joy to the individual.

“This keeps your identity. Do something that makes you excited for life!” she said.

The psychologist recommended that people organize their activity list by time frames. For example, individuals can categorize some items as something that can be done in less than one minute, fifteen minutes, an hour, or several hours.

This list is ongoing and should be added to throughout life as interests change and individuals discover new hobbies.

“Think about it! Even when you aren’t struggling,” said McClendon

Third, evaluate and do what’s necessary to honor the emotion

McClendon said we feel a certain way for a reason. For example, anger may be a signal that something one values has been violated, or it can mean that someone has acted hurtfully.

McClendon suggested individuals discover the underlying cause for anger and clear out any “distortion.”

“Cognitive distortion is telling yourself things that aren’t true,” she said. “Ask yourself, ‘How is this thought not one hundred percent true? Write down all of these things.”

Distortion begins losing it’s power after being continually challenged. McClendon said once distortion is gone, individuals need to label the emotion. Maybe anger is really just a feeling of loneliness or betrayal, she explained.

“Now that you recognize this emotion, [ask yourself] what is my responsibility?” McClendon said.

Because emotions exist to lead individuals to action, once a person acts on the emotion the emotion will dissipate because it has served its purpose, according to the presenter. 

Above all else, McClendon advised against wallowing, because wallowing is a failure to act.

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