Social Support over Isolation: Understanding Collective Emotional Regulation

It has been an overwhelming and challenging time for us all however, some hope has been instilled with the recent yet underwhelming announcement that we are no longer permitted to wear masks. Despite this, other challenges have risen to the surface such as having to navigate through the dark while simultaneously attempting to hold onto our sanity with the recent increase in fuel prices.

Although it can feel isolating at times, these experiences are collective. Research has shown that increased social support results in decreased levels of depression and anxiety. Therefore, it is important to lean on our support systems, especially in times of distress. This feels more important than ever since our increased social isolation during the covid-19 pandemic.

Working collaboratively within a team is a great starting point to observe the positive impact support in the workplace plays on one’s mental health and wellbeing.

Emotional Regulation and Attachment Theory

Emotional regulation is the process of managing one’s feelings. Although this may sound simple in theory, practically the first step involves identifying what one is feeling. This can be challenging, especially if one works within a fast-paced environment. The pandemic has certainly highlighted the importance of mental health however, stigma still prevails, and it is often challenging to confront our struggles.

The way in which individuals may regulate their own or others’ emotions is often rooted in early childhood experiences. In infancy, the way in which the caregiver engages with their baby becomes internalised by the child. If the child feels loved, heard and acknowledged by their caregiver, they become likely to experience the world as a safe, holding space. However, if the opposite takes place, the individual is likely to view the world as threatening and unpredictable. This refers to early attachment and the importance of the caregiver allowing their infant’s needs to be metaphorically digested and fed back to the infant in a meaningful way. For example, if the infant cries from hunger and the caregiver responds by naming the infant’s pain as hunger, this leaves the baby feeling understood, allowing their needs to be met.

If an adult’s needs were not met as a child, it becomes increasingly difficult to know how to meet one’s own needs due to a lack of mirroring.

How to Assist Others with Emotional Regulation

Although it may be easier for a securely attached individual to regulate their emotions, adults with inattentive caregivers still have the potential for corrective experiences. Below are some concrete tools to assist yourself and/or others with emotional regulation according to Psychology Today:

1.    Identify the need to regulate

Step one involves checking in with the needs of others. It may be experienced as intrusive to assume your assistance is needed. It is important to note that everyone’s needs differ therefore, a good starting point may be asking if the other would like some assistance or maybe rather someone to listen to them.

2.    Select which strategy to use

There are various ways to assist another person with their distress. Below are some suggestions:

  • Distractions can be healthy tools at times, however, if overused, distractions can cause avoidant behaviours. Certain healthy distractions include taking some time away from your desk to walk outside and breathe in some fresh air. Another helpful tool is to take that lunch break.
  • Humour is known as an adaptive defence mechanism, therefore telling a joke has the potential to alleviate the other from an unpleasant situation while also encouraging that delicious endorphin release.
  • It can be easy to get sucked into advice or solution-focused mode, however, at times others may require a less active role and prefer for someone to engage in active listening.
  • A bird’s eye view can assist in altering perceptions or situations. From a subjective perspective, situations can seem helpless however, in reaching out, this may flip the situation on its head, offering new insights.
  • Remember, it’s important to assess the needs of others first. If advice is requested, your active input could alleviate some stress. For example, if your colleague is struggling with a particular task, you could offer to work collaboratively.

You could choose one or more of these strategies. It is up to you to determine what will work best while remaining in touch with the needs of the other.

Check Yourself

Humans are complex beings whose needs shift and change over time. It’s important to remain in touch with your friend or colleague’s needs as different situations may require different strategies.

Emotional Regulation in the Workplace

Remaining in touch and aware of where your colleagues are at emotionally can assist in preventing difficulties from escalating. Regular check ins are a helpful tool to remain in touch with your peers.

There are also some other signs one can look out for such as altered sleeping/eating patterns and burnout. If you notice that one of your colleagues is struggling, please do not hesitate to reach out to a health professional at our Corporate Wellness Program. As much as you may want to assist individually, sometimes it is more helpful for a professional to intervene while you can continue remaining a supportive structure in that person’s life.

Being open about one’s emotions can feel daunting however, if it is responded to in a gentle and empathic manner, it may encourage increased disclosure which can prevent burnout and the development of pathologies. It is imperative to create space for employees to feel safe to disclose their emotional struggles in the workplace. This promotes community and security while normalising the importance of mental health in the workplace.

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