How to Handle Difficult Emotions
There’s nothing worse than feeling a difficult emotion. Sadness, anxiety, anger? The worst. It’s uncomfortable. It’s exhausting. And it can be scary. If you’re anything like me, the first impulse you have is to bury that emotion into the ground with a quick fix. Netflix, online shopping, wine, a chocolate-chocolate cupcake…. The options are endless. And why shouldn’t we have options? Who wants to feel bad?
According to psychologists who have studied this issue, avoiding feeling bad is actually bad for us. How’s that?
When we avoid a “bad” feeling, and opt for a quick fix like Netflix or shopping to feel better, we’re choosing a short-term solution over a long-term benefit. The short-term solution may make us feel better immediately, but it can make us more averse to painful feelings over time. As a result, we will choose the short-term solution over and over again. But when we choose the short-term solution, we turn our back on certain long-term benefits that we want for our lives. Goals like getting married, changing jobs, getting a promotion, all involve a certain amount of risk and potential pain. If we are too afraid to experience the possibility of risk or pain, then we stay stuck, and we turn our backs on our goals. Avoiding negative emotions can wreak havoc on our willingness to expand our lives. Negative emotions are always part of growth and change.
Psychologists believe that the best thing we can do with difficult emotions is to accept them and let them in. But I believe that there is a middle road here. I think we can both fully accept our feelings and also let them go to make room for a more comfortable feeling. It’s not possible to fully do away with negative emotions. They will always be part of being alive. And when we feel them we do well to actually let them in. But we can also do what we can to replace those “bad feelings” with a feeling of peace or confidence or gratitude.
Here is an exercise to try the next time you are in the midst of a negative emotion:
- Notice the feeling you are having without judgment, any story, or justification.
- With an open heart allow the feeling. I feel ______ right now. Even if the feeling seems negative, acknowledge it. It will create some distance from the feeling.
- Redirect the feeling. Make a full body choice to feel the feeling you want (for example, if you are feeling nervous or anxious maybe you want confidence, peace, or love). Touch a place on your body (usually hand over stomach) that will emphasize this choice. With your hand on your body deliberately choose the new feeling.
- Ask yourself the next best thing to do (now that you have created the new feeling.)
- Go peacefully back into your day.
If you are experiencing difficulty with handling negative emotions, you may benefit from the coaching experience. Schedule your free thirty-minute consultation now.