Robin Stern, PhD. and Marc Brackett, PhD. – Permission To Feel: Strategies For Healthy Emotional Regulation During Uncertain Times

By Garrison Institute

Have you been riding a roller coaster of emotions lately? You aren’t alone. This virtual lecture from Dr. Marc Brackett and Dr. Robin Stern from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence provides tools to make the ride a little smoother. These research-based strategies can help support your own and your children’s well-being, healthy decision making, relationship quality, and performance during these challenging times.

In the first half of this webinar, Marc and Robin explain their work studying human emotion, and its particular importance in our present moment. This segment begins with a mood mapping activity to help you identify and visualize your own emotions, and concludes with a brief meditation session, led by Marc, which invites you to embrace a moment of stillness:

“It’s become so easy between social media, and the news, and life, to just be kind of all over the place. And we spend hours each day in that kind of vigilance. And the question is, how much time do we give ourselves to be still?”

Marc and Robin’s recent research shows that right now, people are reporting feeling more anxious and stressed than ever. Children are also struggling, with the most common words they use to describe how they feel being “frustrated,” “anxious,” “bored,” and “sad.” COVID has exacerbated mental health issues in the United States – particularly taking a toll on BIPOC communities, who are disproportionately impacted by the virus. 

Robin explains that as a society, we are currently experiencing a widespread emotional phenomenon which she calls a state of amorphous grief. Even in normal times, people who are surrounded by some form of ongoing trauma or loss – for example, emergency medical professionals, social workers, or hospice workers – might feel a sense of amorphous grief due to their frequent exposure to human suffering. But Robin points out that right now, we are all at risk of experiencing this, as we are all living through a pandemic and a time of intense racial violence. Our unlimited access to news media means that we are not only processing loss in our own immediate communities, but nationwide and worldwide loss as well. 

During such a difficult time, taking manageable steps to care for ourselves and others emotionally is more important than ever. For this reason, the second part of this webinar provides tools and tricks – not to avoid feeling negative emotions like anger or sadness necessarily, but to experience them without letting them control us. The session explores the power of mindfulness practices and creating space for downtime – including incorporating moments of gratitude and opportunities for creative self-expression into your day. Robin and Marc’s work also considers mind-body connectedness, and they provide recommendations regarding nutrition and sleep that we can use to support emotional balance through physical self-care.

Additionally, they discuss maintaining healthy relationships in times of stress – through empathy, patience, and vulnerability. Robin breaks down the misconception that empathy is all about commiserating:

“It’s not just the ability to tune in when someone’s hurting or sad or grieving… and be sad with them. It’s also really important to celebrate with people and help them amplify their joy – to give them positive empathy. In fact, we know it’s related to building greater bonds and greater well-being.”

Robin explains that while we may have found our relationships strained over the past few months, we can strengthen them at any time through being courageous and “going first” in our relationships – whether that means initiating joy, reaching out to apologize, or making the decision to forgive.

Another characteristic of emotional intelligence is awareness of the ways we think about ourselves privately. So many of us are inclined to be much more critical and judgmental of ourselves than we are of friends, family, or even strangers. One way of breaking this self-destructive cycle is by identifying the sources of those negative things we say about ourselves – they are not inherent truths, just unkind words that we have internalized:

“One thing that we’ve realized over the last couple decades of research is that much of our negative self-talk is defined for us by other people. Think about it – we’re not born with a negative self-talk gene – it’s got to be acquired through experience. And that acquisition is generally from our families and our peers, and now social media and television.”

Marc provides insight into how you can consciously alter the way you think about yourself – through positive re-appraisal, realizing that thoughts are not facts, and lenses we can use to see ourselves more fairly and kindly. 

Together, these different ideas comprise a skill set often referred to as emotional intelligence. While emotional intelligence is often referred to as a “soft skill” in a professional context, research shows that there are substantial measurable benefits to cultivating that skill – for our health, happiness, and productivity. The good news is, all of these skills are fluid and can be strengthened with practice – so even if some of them don’t come naturally to us, we can all benefit from incorporating emotional intelligence practices into our daily lives.

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Your support matters. Our vision for a more just, compassionate world has never felt more urgent. While we cannot share physical space together, we remain committed to a shared practice of social and spiritual care. We are thankful for the opportunity to create a virtual sanctuary during this time of physical distancing. If you feel called to support our work, we welcome your tax-deductible contribution toward our efforts.

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Robin Stern, Ph.D., is the co-founder and associate director for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and an associate research scientist at the Child Study Center at Yale. She is a licensed psychoanalyst with 30 years of experience treating individuals, couples and families. Robin and Marc are the co-developers of RULER an evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning that has been adopted by over 2,000 schools across the Unites States and in other countries. They both consult with large companies, including Facebook and Google on best practices for integrating the principles of emotional intelligence into training and product design. Her work is frequently published in popular media outlets, such as Psychology Today, The Huffington Post,, The Washington Post, The Hill, Harvard Business Review.

Marc Brackett, Ph.D., is founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and professor in the Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine at Yale University. His research focuses on the role of emotions and emotional intelligence in learning, decision making, creativity, relationships, health, and performance. Marc is the co-founder of Oji Life Lab, a digital emotional intelligence learning system for business. His research has been featured in popular media outlets such as the New York Times, USA Today, Good Morning America, and NPR. He is the author of Permission to FeelUnlocking the Power of Emotions to Help our Kids, Ourselves, and our Society Thrive.

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