Summary Module 6: Therapy - Emotional Sensations Summary

Emotional Sensations

This is a summary of the module Emotional Sensations for your reference.

This module is about facing the physical sensations you may experience during strong emotions.

Understanding and facing physical sensations, is represented by the final room on the 3rd floor of the “emotions” house.

Just like cognitive flexibility and countering emotional behaviors, it’s built upon your goals and ability to stay motivated (the foundation). And, your understanding and awareness of your emotions (the first and second floors). 

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Homework Check-in

Before continuing with this module, did you complete your Emotion Assessments and Progress Record this past week?

Did you use any of the skills from the previous modules (e.g. choosing an alternative action to break the cycle of an unhelpful emotional behavior)?

We’d like you to continue to use all of the skills you’ve learned - together they address all aspects of your emotional experiences.

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Physical sensations, such as an increased heart rate or a heavy feeling in your body, are part of your response to emotional experiences.

Recall the 3 components of an emotional experience: what you feel in your body (physical sensations), what you do (behavioral), and what you think (cognitive).

As you’ve learned, changing your response to any one of these can change your emotional experience.

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How you experience physical sensations affects your emotions. Uncomfortable physical sensations are often a large part of the reason you want to avoid emotions.

Trying to avoid the way you feel physically doesn’t work well. In fact, you’re likely to have increased physical symptoms over time.

In this module, we want you to experience the physical sensations associated with your intense emotions without feeling like you have to escape or avoid them. We include exercises to help them feel more manageable to you.

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Which of the following physical sensations have you experienced with intense emotions?

  • Increased heart rate

  • Nausea or belly discomfort

  • Tiredness, heaviness in your arms/legs

  • Other

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How Emotions Relate to Physical Sensations

  • Anxiety/fear: fast heart rate, shortness of breath, dizziness, feeling “fuzzy” (disoriented), tightness in your chest, muscle tension, and sweating

  • Sadness: tiredness, heaviness in your arms/legs, “lump in your throat”

  • Anger: muscle tension, feeling hot

  • Guilt/shame: gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort, redness (flushing) of your face

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Your body’s physical responses to emotional experiences are important because they alert you to what your emotions are communicating. And, they motivate you to action. For example:

  • Guilt: You said something hurtful to your partner. You feel discomfort in your belly. You apologize and set things right with them.

  • Fear: You see a spider on your patio. Your heart races and you begin to sweat. You decide to go inside.

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Physical sensations can increase the intensity of your emotions and the urge to avoid them.

They may make you feel like you’re unable to cope with a situation.

For example, your hands may start shaking before a presentation, which makes you worry that others will notice. This makes you more nervous. You then want to skip the presentation.

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The situation in which you experience physical sensations affects how you interpret them.

For example, If you feel nervous in a crowd and start sweating, the situation affects how you view sweating.

You may think, “I feel so anxious. People are going to notice. Now, I’m sweating more - I can’t handle this.” This may increase your fear and avoidance of crowded places.

In a different situation you’re less likely to interpret physical sensations in a negative way. For example, sweating while exercising. This usually means you’ve had a good workout.

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You can learn to change the way you interpret physical sensations.

That’s exactly what you’ll do next - you’ll practice exercises that cause you to experience physical sensations that occur with your strong emotions.

By doing so, you’ll begin to get used to these sensations and learn you can tolerate them. This way, you’ll be less likely to have increasingly intense emotions.

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What do you think about practicing exercises that create uncomfortable physical sensations?

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We want you to experience physical sensations in the moment and without judgment. (Sound familiar? It’s much like practicing mindful emotion awareness). You’ll:

  • Notice the sensations without judgment;

  • Learn to cope with the sensations; and

  • Increase your belief in your ability to cope with future uncomfortable sensations.

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Even if you’re not too bothered by the sensations, they may still increase the intensity of your emotional experiences and affect your thoughts and behaviors, e.g.:

  • You may be better able to maintain cognitive flexibility if you’re able to tolerate dizziness or chest tightness.

  • You may be better able to avoid emotional behaviors (e.g. spending the day in bed) if you’re not too bothered by fatigue.

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It’s time to figure out which exercises create sensations most like the ones you experience with emotional experiences.

IMPORTANT

The exercises should not cause more physical distress than you experience with typical daily activities or with strong emotions.

If you have a serious medical problem (e.g. heart or lung issues), as with any new exercise, we recommend that you check with your doctor before you engage in these exercises.

If you have a musculoskeletal injury, you should not engage in certain exercises (e.g. running in place with a knee or ankle problem).

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Please refer to the Physical Sensation Test Exercises Form in your UP Therapy workbook. You’ll also find detailed instructions there.

The idea of the exercises is to experience physical sensations that are similar to those you feel when you have intense emotional experiences.

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You’ll rate the exercises by their distress level and similarity to the sensations you feel with intense emotion.

For example, the “breathing through a narrow straw” exercise is designed to make you feel breathless and anxious. On a scale of 0 to 10, you’ll score the distress level and similarity to the sensations you feel when you are actually anxious.

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What are the physical sensations you experience with intense emotions?

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There are many exercises that create physical sensations. Below are some examples. Talk with your Goodpath coach if you have any questions about performing the exercises.

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It may be time for a break. You can stop for now or continue. Like the previous module, this one is a little longer, but you’re getting near the end!

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Once you’ve tried the exercises, you’ll choose one or more with the distress level and similarity that are closest to the physical sensations you experience with your strong emotions.

Next, you’ll use the Physical Sensation Practice Form in your UP Therapy workbook to do the exercises over and over again, each for at least one minute.

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This part of your program may be especially challenging. You may be used to trying to avoid the physical sensations associated with intense emotions. You may be distressed about what might happen if you experience the physical sensations on purpose.

For example, you may worry that you will faint if you feel breathless, hot and sweaty, dizzy, or disoriented.

What can you do?

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Think about the outcome that’s worrying you. Once you’ve practiced the exercise a lot, ask yourself, “Are my expectations accurate?”

You thought you might faint, but you didn’t! You can use cognitive flexibility to reframe “thinking the worst.” You might think, “It’s unlikely that I’ll faint.”

Over time, and with a lot of practice, your thoughts, behaviors, and sensations will feel less distressing.

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Feeling the discomfort

You may want to stop before your physical sensations get too bad. Don’t! The idea is to feel the discomfort and continue anyway. This is the way you’ll learn to handle the emotional experiences you previously avoided.

In order to feel distressed, you may have to combine 2 exercises, do an exercise for more than one minute, etc. You should reach a distress level of at least 3 on the 0 to 10 scale.

To generate intense physical sensations, what do you think will work for you? For example, some people try the exercises away from home or when they’re already in an emotional environment.

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This exercise is a good time to practice mindful emotional awareness. Observe your sensations, thoughts, and behaviors change during the practice. Think of them nonjudgmentally.

  • Sensation: “I can tell my heart rate is increasing.”

  • Thought: “I’m worried I won’t have enough air breathing through this straw.”

  • Behavior: “I notice that I have the urge to stop the exercise.”

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Homework Reminder

Remember - make time for your homework! This week, you’ll complete the 2 forms described earlier. As with all weekly homework, complete your Emotions forms and Progress Record.

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Think back to your therapy goals. How can facing physical sensations help you reach your goals?

Do you feel you’ve made progress towards your goals? Please describe it.

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Time for a knowledge check. Which of the following are true?

  • Your experience of physical sensations (e.g. sweating, nausea, etc.) affects your emotions.

  • The sensations don’t usually contribute to the intensity of emotions.

  • Physical sensations are part of emotional experiences - your interpretations make them feel a certain way.

  • Avoiding physical sensations makes them feel less distressing.

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Answers

1. True. Sensations are 1 of the 3 parts of your emotional experiences (with thoughts and behaviors). 2. False. Sensations are often a big part of what makes an emotional experience feel intense. 3. True. And, the context in which you experience the sensations affects how you interpret them. 4. False. You’ll continue to find sensations distressing if you avoid them. Instead, experience them!