Emotional regulation skills are incredibly important for maintaining our overall health and well-being. These skills not only help us to work through difficult emotions, but they also facilitate positive and enriching emotional experiences. While there are various techniques that can be utilized to navigate challenging emotions, this article will focus on a strategy that aims to reduce emotional vulnerabilities to overwhelming emotions. The specific skill that will be featured in this article helps individuals to adjust the way that they are viewing a situation in order to better regulate their emotional responses. The Check the Facts skill is useful in assisting people to examine their thought processes, detect false assumptions and misleading interpretations, and utilize an understanding of the situation’s facts to make changes to their emotional experience.
The Benefits of Fact Checking
Our thoughts, beliefs, and interpretations are closely tied to our emotional experiences, and one typically begets the other. When people are in a more level-headed state, their thoughts are more likely to precede their emotional experiences, whereas when people are in an activated state, their emotions are more likely to influence the way that they think about a situation. It is important to note that our interpretations of situations are powerful enough to create our reality. However, being in an emotionally-charged state may lead us to jump to conclusions, catastrophize, or view situations from extreme perspectives, none of which are helpful to us. In other words, what we believe can produce strong emotions and what we feel can create what we believe (for better or for worse).
While our emotions are typically temporary (whether in the overall feeling, its intensity, and/or its frequency), they have the potential to shape our perspectives, memories, interpretations, etc. Research has demonstrated that when we are in a positive mood, we are more likely to interpret situations in a favorable light and that we are more apt to allow for the benefit of the doubt. However, if we are in a negative mood, we are more likely to formulate our opinions in accordance with the agitation that we feel. For example, when we are in a bad mood, we are more likely to interpret another’s actions as bothersome, and even worse, as intentionally bothersome. A temporary mood has the potential to foster a belief or assumption that has deeper and more stable roots than the mood which created it.
We have all been in situations when we believed that our thoughts and our interpretations were absolutely true. Sometimes those beliefs may have been accurate, whereas in other situations, our interpretation may not have been on point. Interpretations are often limited by the facts that the person has available at the time that they have formulated their perspective or belief. However, it is important to remember that there is generally more than one way to interpret a situation, and obtaining more information may help us from operating on a false assumption. Familiarizing oneself with the facts of the situation is necessary in order for effective problem solving to take place. Doing so will help us to examine appropriate options, utilize available resources, make informed decisions, and learn important information that we can apply to similar situations in the future. Checking the facts will help us to formulate more helpful responses and set us up to more effectively navigate our emotional experiences.
Steps to Checking the Facts
Step 1 – Ask yourself: What emotion that I want to change?
Using strategies to help you cope with or adjust your emotions begins with being able to correctly identify the emotion you are experiencing. Once you have determined which emotion you would like to modify, you will be ready to move forward with subsequent steps.
Step 2 – Ask yourself: What event is prompting my emotion?
It is important to consider that the prompting event may be something that is happening outside of us, or it may be something occurring internally. In the latter case, the internal event may be a thought, memory, fatigue, lack of skill, etc. Our emotions may also result from actions that we have taken. It is important to note that the way we describe an event or situation may provoke intense emotions, in which case, it is entirely possible that our interpretation may be the prompting event. In this step, you will need to challenge the way you are judging a situation, make note of the presence of any black or white thinking, and examine any extremes or absolutes. It can be helpful to describe the facts through your five senses so that the information is more objective, and the interpretation is less influenced by assumptions or preconceived notions.
Step 3 – Ask yourself: What are my interpretations, thoughts, and assumptions about the event?
Since we often are responding to our interpretations, instead of to what we observe, it is possible that we may jump to conclusions or respond based upon previously formed assumptions. Therefore, in this step, it is helpful to consider any other possible explanations that would fit the situation. Doing so can be a helpful way to regulate emotions. Consider looking at the situation from a different perspective and testing your interpretations to see if they fit the facts.
Step 4 – Ask yourself: Am I assuming a threat?
Experiencing challenging or distressing emotions is very often connected to the interpretation that there is a threat currently happening or one that will soon present itself. Detecting the threat, whether it is explicit or implicit, is very important in order to be able to properly attend to our emotions. We must first label the threat, assess the likelihood that it will occur (this should be done after one has used coping skills and is in a calmer state), and consider other viable alternative outcomes.
Step 5 – Ask yourself: What is the catastrophe?
While checking the facts may confirm that there is indeed a threat, or that the situation is challenging in some other way, we can certainly exacerbate a difficult situation when we catastrophize the facts and fixate on the worst-case scenario. If the facts support the reality that the situation is problematic, it is important to move on to utilizing skills that can facilitate better coping, such as problem solving, making cope ahead plans, accepting the situation, etc.
Step 6 – Ask yourself: Does my emotion and/or its intensity fit the actual facts?
While our emotions are useful information, their intensity may be too high (or sometimes too low) to be helpful in the situation at hand. If the emotion or its intensity are incompatible with the situation, it may be helpful to reevaluate the situation and/or to utilize another skill to help you regulate your emotions.
While it bears noting that emotions are valid and important in their own right, it is also necessary to recognize that relying on emotions alone may not allow us to fully make sense of a situation. Faulty interpretations and intense emotions can lead us to jump to conclusions, overlook important information, and react impulsively. In such situations, it is important to have accessible tools that will help us to reevaluate situations and consider events in more comprehensive ways. Sometimes before we are able to consider alternative explanations, we need to attend to our emotional needs and utilize strategies to help us navigate turbulent emotions. Please do this first! Attending to your emotional needs is critical to being able view situations more clearly and respond in ways that are more helpful. Checking the facts is not only a useful tool for regulating emotions, but it is also a foundational skill for moving forward to problem solving and enacting effective changes.
Need Help or Support?
If you or a loved one are struggling with an anxiety disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or any other mental health concerns, know that you are not alone. If you are a parent or a caregiver and are seeking additional information about how you can best support your child, our office provides parent training with the SPACE program. Please see our November 2021 Newsletter for more information on SPACE.
For these or any other mental health concerns, please contact The OCD & Anxiety Center at (630) 686-7886 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We have offices located in Oak Brook and Orland Park, Illinois and in Marietta, Georgia. Our clinicians specialize in helping individuals overcome anxiety disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, and other co-occurring mental health conditions. We provide telehealth services that are available in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Florida, and Georgia.
At The OCD & Anxiety Center, we can provide treatment both in the office and at off-site locations (your home, mall, school, work etc.). We will work closely with you to create an individualized treatment plan and discuss the appropriate frequency of appointments (once a week or more, if needed). We look forward to working with you and facilitating your therapeutic journey!
Dr. Ashley Butterfield is a licensed clinical psychologist at The OCD & Anxiety Center in Oak Brook, Illinois. She specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy for anxiety, OCD, and anxiety-related disorders. She is comfortable working with children, adolescents, and adults and is able to provide treatment both in the office and outside of the office, wherever anxiety happens.