Mindfulness and other ways to handle difficult emotions
Emotions have a powerful influence over our lives. As much as we like to think that we are logical and reasonable, we make decisions based on whether we’re feeling sad, happy, bored or angry. And practicing mindfulness and other techniques can help us to tune into and manage our emotions.
Leading researcher in the field of emotions, Paul Eckman, suggested that there are emotions which are universal, across all cultures such as fear, disgust, anger, surprise, happiness, sadness, embarrassment, excitement, contempt, shame, pride, satisfaction, and amusement.
We don’t always experience pure forms of each emotion and mixed emotions over different events or situations in our lives are common. A performer going on stage might feel both excited and nervous. Having a baby might bring up a wide variety of emotions from fear to happiness. A child leaving home to go to college may bring up both pride and sadness in parents. These emotions might occur all at the same time, or you might feel them one after another.
When we feel miserable we tend to lump them all our emotions together in a big sweaty, miserable mess. We feel that “life stinks and I’m a terrible person.” But actually it’s much more helpful, and less stressful, to try to distinguish between your negative emotions. Take a few moments to try to get to the bottom of what you’re really feeling instead of letting your emotions steal the show.
Try these powerful techniques:
- Stop and be mindful
Humans are designed to take regular breaks during their day but the pace of modern life means that we tend to hurtle from one thing to the next. It’s important to know that you will not be able to react mindfully to one situation if you’re still carrying the emotions from something unpleasant that occurred earlier in your day. For more information on mindfulness click here.
- Stay in tune with your body
We talk about a “gut reaction” to something and indeed there is often a strong physiological response to our emotions. When we’re anxious we often feel an unpleasant tightness in our gut, our can feel our heart thumping and our breath becomes shallow. This is our body going into the survival “fight or flight” mode, ready to deal with or run away from a perceived threat. Sometimes we may be vaguely of these bodily sensations but choose to ignore them – and yet they are extremely important warning signs that it is time to stop and take a bit of time out to relax, reflect and engage our logical brain in planning our next move. And don’t forget to rule out physical causes for the feelings, such as lack of sleep, thirst and hunger.
- Untangle your emotional knots
Some of us are better at tuning into and identifying our emotions than others. Name the good ones as well as the bad – is what you feel right now…. Restlessness… Agitation …Pride… Hatred… Anger… Jealousy…Envy… Worry… Laziness… Resentment… Regret… Love… Calmness… Enthusiasm…Joy… Happiness… Fear… Sadness…Grief…or something else?
- Write it down.
Sometimes when we’re having a hard time identifying our different emotions writing it down on paper can help – we might start to see certain patterns emerging that can help us to pinpoint exactly how we’re feeling.
You’ve had a difficult day at work but you imagine that as soon as you walk through yor front door you are fine. However, if your pulse is still racing, your emotional state may still be driven by your physiology. Walking is excellent in terms of emotional regulation – it sends a message to your brain t stop producing the stress hormones and helps you to refocus.
Physical or mental clutter adds to a general sense of disarray. If you’re having difficulty focusing and emotions are clouding your view, simply spending half an hour tidying your workspace or sitting room can help clear your mind. If the clutter is mental, see if you can do the same thing – work out what’s important and what isn’t, what you can do something about and what you can’t. If it helps, write it down in the form of lists – and then choose to ignore at least for the time being anything that isn’t a priority and anything that that you are not in a position to do anything about.
For more information on mindfulness go to my Mindful Self Help page
For more information on managing stress go to my Stress Counselling Cork page
Need more help?
If you would like to discuss any of the issues about managing emotions raised in this article call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!