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Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.
Finding Meaning Through the Many Windows of Wellness

Two Powerful Ways to Reduce Emotional Arousal

Carrie Steckl, Ph.D. Updated: Oct 4th 2013

Have you ever flown off the handle and then wondered, "Where did that come from?" We surprise ourselves sometimes with the range of emotions we're capable of expressing.

angry businessmanWhile conveying our emotions is an important part of maintaining emotional well-being, experiencing extremes in emotional arousal can be damaging if they occur frequently or for extended periods. In fact, severe distress and interference with relationships can occur when emotions become out of control.

Luckily, research has shown that we have tools available to us to regulate our emotions. The most common way is to reduce emotional arousal, which we'll talk about here. But keep in mind that we can also regulate our emotions by occasionally expressing strong emotions (in a mindful way) or by activating positive emotions.

Here are two ways to reduce emotional arousal:

Meditation. According to research, meditation may be one of the most effective means for decreasing anxiety, panic, and persistent anger. Meditation is also used in about 60% of addiction treatment programs.

If you think there's only one way to meditate and it involves converting to Buddhism, think again. Several forms of meditation exist that can be adapted to either be spiritually-focused or not. A noticeable benefit of meditation is a reduction in the constant chattering of the mind and the mental images that produce anxiety.

Meditation should be done on a regular basis for maximum benefit. A simple Internet search can point you to meditation resources and classes near you.

Progressive muscle relaxation. While meditation quiets the mind, progressive muscle relaxation can provide physical rest. Progressive muscle relaxation is frequently used by behavioral therapists and is considered a highly effective structured technique that requires regular practice and involves every muscle group in the body.

While there are many progressive relaxation programs available through the Internet and by finding a behavioral therapist, there are basically 4 steps to the technique:

  • Preparation, including proper positioning and a quiet environment
  • Tightening and relaxing each muscle group while focusing on the differences in sensations
  • Relaxing fully and breathing slowly and deeply following the tensing of each muscle group
  • Scanning the body for remaining areas of tension and then repeating the sequence to relax these stubborn spots

If you experience extreme emotional arousal on a regular basis, I encourage you to try one or both of these techniques as a way to find more peace in your everyday life.


Young, M. E. (2013). Learning the art of helping: Building blocks and techniques (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.


Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.

It’s a true blessing to have you visit my blog on mental health and wellness. I also write blogs on faith and caregiving in addition to teaching part-time for Columbia College of Missouri. For more information about my background and writing, visit my webpage at

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Therapeutic process = Guilt, etc. - James Halstrum - Oct 15th 2013


Two good friends got summer jobs at a convenience store. These two girls were such good friends, they were like sisters - always together in one way or another (in person/on the phone/texting/emailing). It hardly seemed like work when the two shared the same shift!

One afternoon, a young man came into the store looking for a certain brand of cigarettes. He did not initially look suspicious - except for the long leather jacket and gloves he was wearing; it was a cloudless 30 degree afternoon in the middle of summer!

It turned out that the particular brand of cigarettes was no longer being produced and the store did not have any more to sell. As per protocol, the girls explained this to the customer and suggested another kind. This did not go over well with the customer; he began to yell and throw things around the store. When one of the girls tried to calm the man, he pulled out a gun from one of the many pockets in his jacket and pointed it at one of the girls' head. Before the other girl was able to activate the soundless panic alarm, the irate customer spontaneously pulled the trigger; his hostage crumpled to the ground instantly.

When the police got to the store to investigate the shooting, they encountered one teenage girl sobbing over the lifeless form of another. "It's all my fault!" she cried, "I should have hit the panic button earlier. Now look, my best friend in the entire world is dead."

As the days progressed, the girl became more and more silent and kept to herself; her face was devoid of colour and the bright smile that once shone on her face - the faces of the two best friends. She refused to eat or care for herself; there was not a night that she did not have horrendous nightmares of being attacked herself or of experiencing the hostage situation over and over again and watching her bff be shot dead by a single bullet.

When her parents finally got her in to see a counsellor, the girl was encouraged to write out the events of that day in as much detail as she could; she was then instructed to read it over and over again until it no longer evoked the tears and anger that it initially did. When she could do this, her therapist then asked her to compose an email for her friend as if she were alive and well; in it, she was to express everything she felt about what had happened at the store: her guilt/sadness/fear/anger/etc. Once she composed and "sent" it, the girl was instructed to write the response that she envisioned that her friend would compose: how would she respond? Would she cast blame on her friend? Would she criticize her friend for her actions/lack thereof?
Once this task was completed, the girl felt a sense of relief like no other. She was then able to open up to others about the incident and talk freely about the awesomeness of her friend. She began caring for herself - indulging in the manicures and pedicures and deep hair conditioning that she and her friend used to do. Remarkably, the nightmares and the flashbacks never returned.


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