Funny how some distance, makes everything seem small…

Posted in: Kate Elliott

My 5 year old daughter has a deep and undying love for Elsa from Frozen – and why not, there’s a lot to love – the songs, the outfits, the magic, the journey of self-discovery and empowerment and the awesome power of sister love. (Okay, I admit it, I ♥ Elsa too).  

“Funny how some distance, makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me, can’t get to me at all “

In singing ‘Let it Go’ at bedtime for the eleventh-billionth time it struck me that Elsa also has something to teach us about emotional regulation and stress management at work (bear with me here).  

I regularly support staff who are experiencing imposter feelings, or who find that anxious thoughts or negative self-talk are intruding on their home life and their sleep. I am certainly no stranger to getting stuck in a negative thought loop about something I have said or done, or waking up at 3 in the morning to worry about a big presentation the next day! 

I also find that the more I am swept up in my own difficult thoughts and feelings the less able I am to respond to my colleagues, my clients, my friends and family in the ways that are important to me – I am less able to be reflective, patient, compassionate, less able to listen and more likely to rush to judgement or defensiveness. We know that emotional intelligence, including self-awareness and self-regulation, is a key building block for effective leadership, and yet we are all human, we all struggle with our emotions and thoughts and we all need strategies to help us respond with wisdom and act with purpose. 

One small change that can help us work with difficult thoughts and feelings (rather than ignoring or minimising them) is psychological distancing – a technique that allows us to create distance from our thoughts, helping us to regulate (but not get rid of!) strong emotions and gain a more objective perspective on our thoughts. They are many ways to create psychological distance and studies show that even small shifts can reduce anxiety and improve task performance. 

1.Get away from it all 

First up, an obvious one – leave that angry email in draft, get up, get away from the computer, go for a walk or even just lean back in your seat – getting some literal distance can make all the difference. Many mindful exercises also help to create distance - for example imagining putting your thoughts on leaves in a stream and watching them float away (Leaves-On-A-Stream.pdf ( 

2. Name it (don’t shame it) 

Emotional literacy is the ability to recognise, express, and handle emotions – a great way to improve emotional literacy and to create some distance from difficult emotions is to expand your emotional vocabulary and practicing naming your emotions more precisely (try an emotion wheel if you need some inspiration). Writing them down in a journal is even better, and is my go to method for helping me process difficult emotions. And please remember to approach all emotions with compassion and acceptance rather than with judgement or shame.  

3. Change the timeframe 

We intuitively understand that what seems enormous right now will likely fade over time. ‘Episodic future thinking’ positively impacts emotion regulation and decision making. Project yourself into the future and think about how you will feel about this situation/problem/difficulty in 10 years’ time.  

4. What would Elsa say? 

Reflecting on situations by deliberately taking another persons’ perspective (feel free to choose your own inspirational icon!) can help us to access our wiser selves. Ask yourself what your best friend/most inspirational role model/kindest self would say to you, or practice reflective writing in the third rather than first person (what did Kate do/how did Kate feel/what might Kate do differently next time) which has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve performance when completing stressful tasks. 

If you would like to explore these techniques or other ways to prioritise acting with purpose, try working with a coach: The University of Bath coaching service for staff 

Kate Elliott, Coaching Psychologist & OD Consultant 


References & further reading 

Regulating Emotions At Work: The Underlying Strength Of Effective Leaders ( 

Leaves On A Stream Exercise ( 

Daniel L Schacter, Roland G Benoit, Karl K Szpunar, Episodic future thinking: mechanisms and functions, Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, Volume 17, 2017, Pages 41-50 

Grossmann, I., Dorfman, A., Oakes, H., Santos, H. C., Vohs, K. D., & Scholer, A. A. (2021). Training for Wisdom: The Distanced-Self-Reflection Diary Method. Psychological Science, 32(3), 381-394.   

Manoj Thomas, Claire I. Tsai, Psychological Distance and Subjective Experience: How Distancing Reduces the Feeling of Difficulty, Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 39, Issue 2, 1 August 2012, Pages 324–340,  

Posted in: Kate Elliott


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