We all experience negative emotions throughout life, and at times it can be really difficult to feel them. It can be so discomforting that our natural response may be to dismiss them, distract ourselves from them, or even become stuck in the emotion when hope is lost and there seems to be no coming out of it.
Take a moment to think about how you deal with hard emotions. Do you sweep them under the rug, act normal and just move on with your day? Do you distract yourself with TV, food, smoking, drugs, or alcohol? Or do you exercise or meditate to clear your head only to have to face the same emotional patterns later? We all have our ways to cope and there is no judgement on what coping mechanism we choose (we all know our consequences); it’s more that there is an underlying fear of dealing with these uncomfortable emotions because they can be painful. Facing them head on can seem daunting, so in the moment, it feels safer and easier to turn to a quick fix.
You may ask yourself, “Why is it so hard to deal with these feelings?” Well if you look at it logically, negative emotions are typically felt as a response from our brain and body when there is a trauma or some hardship in life. A death or break up can cause grief and loneliness, disrespect and unfairness can cause anger, and a threat to our safety like losing financial security or our health can cause worry and anxiety. These feelings are really just a way that our brain is coping with and reacting to the trauma we experienced or could possibly experience. With that said, emotions are simply just a feeling, a reaction that we feel because we give meaning to the trauma and how it affects our lives. Of course we would be sad, mad, frustrated, insecure, and fearful if something disrupted our lives in such a profound way and without expectation.
Is it even healthy to have these feelings even if I don’t feel good? Yes! Just because the feelings are hard to feel doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad or negative. We call them negative emotions because of how they make us feel, the opposite of happy and peaceful. What is harmful is stuffing them away or distracting ourselves from feeling them. The emotions will only keep coming back, maybe even stronger, and the underlying issue that bred those emotions will still be sitting there too, just waiting to be addressed. We wouldn’t let spoiled food continue to smell up the kitchen by covering it up with air fresheners and candles, right? No, we’d go straight to the source and remove the spoiled food from the kitchen.
What would be a better way to deal with my so called negative emotions? There are plenty of ways to do this, and each person will have their favorite, but I’ll list a few that work well for most and especially with me because I’m always my first guinea pig. I typically do these steps in order.
- Welcome the emotion. Simply observe how it feels. That means, I let it happen. If I feel overwhelmed, angry or anxious, I’ll focus on what’s happening in my body. It can be a constriction of breath, a flood of nervousness to my stomach, or a tightness in my jaw. It can be different or similar every time, but your feelings will be unique to you and your emotion(s), so let it happen and just curiously observe how the emotion occurs in your body. The biggest challenge is not reacting to it and getting caught up in the story behind the feeling. This gets easier after observing them a few times. What you’ll probably notice is that the feeling doesn’t last very long. It’s like a wave that shows up and when there’s no reaction or stress about it, the “hard” part of the feeling can dissipate a lot sooner than we expect.
- Engage in deep breathing. This will help you stay in the observation mode and help you refrain from reacting or distracting yourself from the hard feelings. It also gets you out of the fight, flight, freeze mode and helps you slip into a much calmer, peaceful state.There are so many patterns of deep breathing to try, but a simple way to start is by inhaling through the nose for a count of 8 while filling up the belly (not the chest) and exhale through the mouth for a count of 8 through slightly pursed lips. Keep it continuous, so after the exhale, go right into another inhale. 2-3 minutes usually does the trick, but go longer if needed until you feel a shift towards calmness. The key is to focus on the breath and the feelings in your body, not the story behind it.
- Tap it out. EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) is one of my favorite ways to deal with hard emotions, especially when I’m really emotionally charged and I know I’ll be ruminating about the thing that set me off all day. I also like to do it when I notice a pattern of the same emotion coming up in my life. Tapping is way to get to the root cause of where that pattern comes from, so it is literally the opposite of sweeping it under the rug or distracting myself from it. I process it, and it’s done. No rumination necessary.
- Journal about it. This works well for a lot of people that like to get their thoughts and feelings down and out of their head. It can be really cathartic and bring clarity to the underlying factors of the emotions. Free form writing of whatever comes to mind as a stream of consciousness is a good way to start. No one is reading it, so it doesn’t have to make sense. It’s literally a way to get the thoughts out of your head and onto paper or computer screen. After tapping, I sometimes journal because solutions or clarity will come to mind after my emotions calm down, and I like to jot those thoughts and ideas down.
The most important thing to remember is to be good to yourself and listen to your body. These negative emotions are simply signals or cues that something is off balance, so when we experience them, consider being compassionate with yourself, knowing it is just a feeling and it will pass. Treat yourself as you would treat an innocent child that is having a hard time, with an embrace and compassion. Thank the feeling for coming as it is showing you what to pay attention to. The more we resist our emotions or get angry with ourselves for having them, the more off balance we get. Observe them, notice how they affect your body without resistance, and if you find yourself in a pattern of the same emotions over and over, there may be an underlying trauma to deal with.
In dealing with underlying traumas, I personally think that EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) are highly effective tools because they focus on the root cause of trauma therefore effectively disrupting the patterns of strong, reactive emotions. There is plenty of clinical research that supports the effectiveness of Clinical EFT, and my personal emotional gains from EFT inspired me to become a practitioner and pay if forward to others.There are several other useful modalities like Breathwork, Craniosacral therapy, and brainwave technologies that also reap amazing emotional benefits and I like to engage in all of them. With regular practice, you’ll notice that negative emotions don’t come up as often. You’ll feel more resilient and less affected by the same factors that would trigger negative emotions in your life. It’s truly a great place to be! In the meantime, be kind and curious and enjoy your journey to emotional freedom.