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Bracketing: How to Regulate Your Emotions When It's Not The Right Time To Feel The Feels

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

This week, 'Therapy Begins with Tea' steeps on how we can better regulate our emotions through 'bracketing' and offers tips of how to dial down (& back in) to feel our emotions in a safe way.

Therapy Begins with Tea is a weekly newsletter based on the themes that come up in my sessions as a therapist who specializes in imposter syndrome, attachment styles in romantic relationships, and our psychological relationships with money. Each week consists of a 'steep' in thought reflection, an accompanying body based check-in, and tea card intentions for the week to come.

'Steep' in Thought (3-5 min)

What Is Bracketing?

To put it shortly, therapy 🤝 emotions. "And how do you feel about that?" is our infamous trademark after all. True emotional regulation is the practice of relating to your emotions in a way that you know not just how, but when, to 'get in touch' and when to dial it down.

I'll be the first to say that emotions communicate a lot to us. Despite the societally ingrained hierarchy of logic over feeling, emotions are the language of the body and the brain. Emotions demand to be felt and we're better off listening. But it's not always the safest or most appropriate or even the most helpful time to feel them, so what do we do? We bracket. Just like emotions communicate with you, you can talk back.

'Bracketing' is a practice of intentional postponement -- it's when you acknowledge an emotion that's coming up strong and tell it, 'not now, later.' For this to work, you have recognize that the emotion has something valid to tell you. For it to trust you enough to pull back, you also always have to come back to it. Remember, dialing down doesn't work unless you give time & space to dial back up.

Full Body Check-In (2-4 min)

Dial Down & Out

Take a full breath. On the next inhale, take inventory of the emotion you want to bracket. Ask yourself, what am I feeling? Where am I feeling it?

Acknowledge that it's there and explain why it's not the right time to feel it so strongly. Maybe that sounds like, "Okay. I feel you, fear. I know you're there & you have something to tell me. We can't process this right now together, so I will come back & we'll talk when it's safe to."

Then, imagine the emotion as a volume dial. Take note of what number it's set to & then mindfully turn it down. Feel the intensity of the emotion lesson to a tolerable level.

Dial Back In

Take a full breath. On the next exhale, bring back the volume dial in your mind. Call the emotion in and thank it for being patient. Now is the time to voluntarily feel it.

On the next exhale, mindfully turn the dial back up, observing if it goes back to its original number or if the intensity has changed. Sit with it. Let the sensations, memories, & thoughts that the emotion holds flow over you. Imagine them like clouds in the sky, passing by as you sit and watch.

Keep breathing & acknowledging what the emotion tells you. Sometimes that's all it's asking for.

Process, journal, share as needed.


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