Throughout February we will explore our emotions: what they are, how they serve us, and how we can improve our ability to respond to them in a helpful way.
Today we explore observing our emotions with kindness and patience
Resisting emotions is a delaying tactic
So far we’ve discussed the process of noticing when emotions stir and then naming them to take away some of the sting of big emotions before they overwhelm us. The next step in the process is to adopt the perspective of a kindly observer, holding some space to look at the emotions you’ve identified and sit with them.*
* A word of caution: if you are in a poor state of mental health, it’s advisable to work on this process with a trained mental health professional
This can be a really tough period – it can be uncomfortable or even painful to allow emotions like fear, grief, hopelessness and sadness to surface. That’s why it’s a natural instinct to suppress or resist these emotions by pretending they don’t exist or keeping them at bay. We tend to pour a lot of energy into keeping those emotions bottled up, rather than coming to terms with them.
We may be afraid of what will happen if we welcome those painful thoughts and feelings. That to open yourself to it all again may trigger a flood of unpleasant and distressing memories. Yet the energy is takes to keep those emotions locked up is ultimately a waste. Those emotions are still unresolved and can even grow in magnitude the longer you delay your healing. And the longer this goes on, the more likely this is to lead to physical deterioration, as well as emotional.
The longer you delay coming to terms with your emotions – big and small – the more you allow yourself to become a ‘victim’ of your emotions, rather than recognising that it is wholly within our power to accept that they exist and then learn to let go of them. This frees you to put your energy into something more rewarding – something you actually want in your life.
Emotions come and go
It’s good to remember that emotions naturally come and go quite quickly. It’s only by attaching to them and creating thoughts and feelings about them that they persist. Wallowing in them makes them last longer. Ironically, by giving your energy to the thing you most want to avoid, you are actually strengthening and lengthening the pain and suffering associated with it. You are energising your own stress. When you are able to accept what is, you position yourself to change it, or move past it to something else.
Emotions are messages. They communicate something to you about your values and what matters. They give your the option to take action that aligns you with your values. For example, you feel sadness when you see a campaign advert on Twitter to support malnourished children. This is a sign that you value ensuring children are well fed and well cared for. And it gives you the option to respond in a way that’s aligned to your values: giving your support to the campaign or a donation.
And of course, you can always ignore them!
Radical acceptance is key to resilience
Only by looking our emotions in the eye and then accepting them as they are can free us from their grip. It’s at this stage that we are dealing with the world as it is, rather than as we wish the world would be.
In her talk about emotional agility, Susan David shares: “radical acceptance of all of our emotions is the cornerstone to resilience.” Being with our emotions – with curiosity and compassion – and accepting them for what they are, puts us on the path to resolution.
If we show that we can be with our tough emotions, that we can listen to the data they are trying to convey to us and then choose a path through, then we create emotional strength.
- Hold some time and space for being with emotions that you have noticed today.
- Name your emotions – on paper or out loud – to show that you recognise them and to make them less scary.
- Take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is hard.
- Take the view of an observer to achieve some distance and detachment. You might address yourself in the third person: “Michael feels sad.” (Not Michael is sad.) Or perhaps imagine looking down from the window of a plane or from a bird’s eye.
- At this stage there’s no reason to wonder why or find solutions. Just sit with the emotion.
- Send yourself some compassionate vibes. You could use a mantra such as “May I be peaceful.” or you could give yourself a hug or place your hand over your heart.
This kindness to yourself encourages the production of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone which soothes you. By standing down your fight or flight response and triggering your relaxation response it puts you in a better position to think and make wise choices.
Daily practice – movement
Show your body some love by doing some gentle stretches or yoga poses.
For some ideas, check out the advent yoga challenge and if you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
This one is my favourite: