Emotion regulation, or the ability to exert control over your emotional state, can be a lifelong struggle. It is common for youth to face challenges as they try to balance their emotions; in fact, it’s completely normal and part of growing up.
Without proper strategies, anger issues and panic attacks can be debilitating, and a person may find that relatively small problems may escalate into full-blown crises quickly. Someone may react to a negative situation with violence or panic before a major life event, for example. The result could be hurt feelings or embarrassment, or worse, a job loss or the loss of a stable place to sleep.
That brings us to Mary. She is 14 years old. Lately, she has been experiencing heavy emotions and has struggled to figure out how to deal with them effectively. She is not in danger of losing stability at this time, but sometimes these emotions get her into trouble and interfere with her daily life. Today, something happened that made her feel like she might be heading towards more trouble than she can handle. That is why she decided to contact the National Runaway Safeline.
When Mary entered our Crisis Chat, she told us that she was furious. She was trying hard not to smash her laptop on the floor. She wanted to punch a hole in the wall. Just before contacting NRS, Mary got into a heated argument with a friend from school. She has argued with friends before, but lately she’s been feeling unable to control herself in these situations. She was sent home from school. Now she’s not sure what to do. Her parents will be angry and she’s concerned about the punishment. She worries her friends and family won’t listen to her or take her seriously. Her outbursts are affecting every aspect of her life.
Typically, the first step in a situation like this is to help the person in crisis to calm down. It is difficult to have a constructive conversation when someone is angry or upset. We recommend using a grounding exercise to help redirect thoughts away from distressing feelings and back to the present. This skill would be beneficial to Mary, so we focused on teaching her how to do this. Strategies for “grounding” vary, but the one we used with her focused on exercising the five senses.
Mary counted down from five with us, starting with five things she could see. She named things on her desk and bedroom walls. Then we moved to sounds she could hear. Mary recounted the hum of the fan, car horns honking outside, music playing softly in the background and her own fingers on the keyboard. We then asked her to name three things she could feel, followed by two she smelled. Finally, she mentioned something she could taste: cold water. She took a sip, and by the time she finished, Mary was ready to begin talking about her next steps.
We talked about why it’s mature to accept responsibility for your actions, and even better, to want to do something about your behavior. She had an argument with someone that pushed her to anger, but ultimately, Mary acknowledged it was her own fault that she let it bother her. She decided she might want to meet with the school counselor for further help. Her parents might be more agreeable if she brings that up with them! Mary came into the Chat with emotions running high, and left feeling relieved and confident of her next steps.
If you are in crisis, reach out to the National Runaway Safeline for confidential, 24/7 support. We are available at 1-800-786-2929 and via live chat, e-mail and public forums at 1800RUNAWAY.org.