I wholeheartedly believe that tending to our well-being and cultivating resilience will lead to a happier life. However, “happiness” is not the goal. Sounds incongruent, doesn’t it? I know. Stick with me. If the measure of our success is only whether or not we feel happy, we are going to feel like failures fairly often. Achieving a steady state of happiness is chasing a myth. We are human beings with the capacity and need for a full range of emotions. Therefore, the goal of a well-being and resilience practice to be able to feel all of our emotions and know we are still ok.
When we identify difficult feelings as emotions to be conquered, we will spend a lot of time in battle. We don’t need to be at war with our emotions. Well-being comes from honoring our emotions. Here are some keys to understanding and accepting our harder feelings.
Stop to notice the emotion and how it feels in your body. Do you feel it in shoulders? Is there a knot in your stomach or a shortness of breath? Are there tears burning the back of your eyes? Sit with that feeling. If literally sitting with the feeling is too hard, walk around, get a mug of tea or some water. The key here is to not push the feeling away. If you feel tears, allow them to come. Your body deserves the release. Your emotions are signals. Listening to them helps avoid a crisis later on.
The unknown is scary. Unnamed emotion becomes the boogeyman under the bed. Unnamed emotion can leave us wondering if we are crazy. Naming it allows us to know how to care for the emotion. Is it sadness, anger, disappointment, jealousy? Something else? Once you have named it, depersonalize it. Instead of saying, “I am anxious,” say, “This is anxiety.” This allows us to identify the emotion, but still keep a healthy distance from it. It doesn’t consume us.
Our hesitation about accepting difficult emotions comes from the fear that if we do, that feeling might decide to stay. We don’t want to put out a Welcome mat for an unwelcome visitor. But emotions are just that: visitors. “Good” or “bad,” they don’t stay. Emotions are not permanent. It can be helpful to imagine the emotion as a cloud. Receive your emotion knowing that it will pass like a cloud. While it is overhead, soothe yourself the way you would a friend. What loving kindness would you extend to a loved one who was experiencing hard emotions? Some self-compassionate words to use include:
- “This feels hard, but it won’t last”
- “I can handle feeling uncomfortable”
- “I can feel my feelings and be ok”
- “I am safe”
- “I am allowed to feel this way”
Once you have calmed yourself, return to your curiosity again. This time, allow your curiosity to extend beyond your internal experience. Investigate what triggered your emotion. Did it come from a work experience? Is something causing stress at home? Are you feeling unappreciated, disappointed, or judged? Can you recognize a pattern to the difficult emotion? If so, are there things you can do to disrupt that pattern? I learned that I was much more likely to experience frustration and shortened temper in the evenings if I didn’t allow myself to have a period of transition between work and home. Even just 15 minutes to myself in my room to listen to music, change clothes, or practice a short meditation helped me be able to approach the rest of the day more calmly.
Let It Go
Much like our reluctance to welcome our emotion, we also have a reluctance to give up trying to control them. Stay open and curious, but do not try to force the emotions in any one direction. It is similar to our expectation and reaction to physical pain. The most common reaction to impending physical pain is to tense up. It is our body trying to protect us and control our experience of pain. The irony, however, is that muscle tension actually makes the pain worse. That is why breathing, relaxation, and meditation are actually more effective for physical pain management. The same is true for emotional pain.
It truly is ok to not be ok sometimes. It is all within the realm of mental wellness. When we honor the full scope of our emotions, we strengthen our resilience.