Practical Advice for Managing Emotions
Emotions are like the weather
When a problem arises, it’s human nature to respond with shock, surprise or blame. But what if emotions are like weather? Not something to be judged, but to be managed. When it’s raining, we don’t curse the rain, we wear a raincoat. Similarly, when the ‘weather’ of your emotions is ‘less than sunny’, practice self-acceptance by noticing and adapting rather than judging. The troubling emotions you may be experiencing are just like the weather: They may not be comfortable, but they will pass. In the meantime, there is a very good chance you can handle it better than you give yourself credit.
Take care of yourself
Pay attention to what you eat, what you do with your time, what you say and how you behave; within reason. Without going to extremes, practice developing healthy eating, exercising, social and sleep habits. Taking time out of your day or your week for yourself, can be just as good. When you’re on the go all day, you may tend to forget about taking a moment (or more) for yourself. This can be a time to meditate, to call a friend, to take a nap; anything that recharges you is not worth putting off. Our practice prides itself on hiring great clinicians who are therapists both in the therapy room and out. This means that while we certainly aren’t perfect, we are doing our best to lead a life that is full of kindness, compassion, commitment to growth, self-acceptance and fun! We must put the oxygen mask on ourselves before we can take care of others. Similarly, putting yourself first can be a meaningful act of kindness.
Be open and accepting of yourself (and others)
It’s true, honesty really IS the best policy! The first step towards having an open and honest relationship with others is having one with yourself. Notice what you like and don’t like. Accept yourself as the discerning individual you are, without judgment. Notice if you start to judge yourself — it’s normal and we all do it from time to time, but it’s not necessarily something you MUST respond to. Self judgment can be another form of ‘weather’ and it doesn’t necessarily require an intense response. Rather, try to say to yourself, “Hmmm I notice I’m really being hard on myself.” Just the act of noticing the ‘weather of your emotions’ can help you resist grappling with yourself and increase your self acceptance.
Practice a grounding exercise
Sometimes, it takes physical grounding to nudge our minds back into a place where we can embrace observation, loving kindness and acceptance rather than judgment. A simple grounding exercise is The 54321 Grounding Method.
In this exercise, stop where you are and focus your attention on:
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can feel
- 3 things you can hear
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
Taste is sometimes hard to identify, so you could substitute that by thinking of your favorite thing to taste. The goal is to identify elements in the world around you. As your mind begins to focus on these things, it will be less focused on the sudden rush of emotional disturbance. This will help slow your heart rate, control your breathing, and make you feel better overall.
There are many different grounding exercises you can use. The point is to embrace the mind-body connection and resist the urge to over think your worry or frustration by placing attention outside of your thoughts.
Remind yourself that you are not your thoughts
The things we think about do not necessarily define who we are. Be accepting of your thoughts as well as your faults, and recognize that there are some things in life you just can’t redo. If you tend to dwell on negative thoughts or negative past events, try to notice that you are dwelling, give yourself a break about doing so, and move on. Thoughts are simply tiny electrical impulses in your brain, why judge them? It’s okay to think what you think. No need to judge yourself. Be your own best friend and resist the urge to judge yourself.
Set reasonable goals for yourself
Goals are important, but making them attainable, reasonable and measurable is the key. This is your life. It is what you make of it. Take time to pursue the hobby or activity you always thought of doing, but never actually pursued. Our lives can become very stressful and overwhelming with all the errands we run, our work, family, and other obligations. So take some time to indulge in something YOU find meaningful, rather than something you think you SHOULD do. Doing something you enjoy will help to shake off the daily stressors you face. If you have measurable and attainable goals you are more likely to feel more secure and purposeful in your daily life. Whenever you come up with a goal, such as learning to play an instrument, making new friends, or enhancing your social life, look for ways to identify small, incremental changes you can make today. And remember that if you are struggling with this, chances are your goal is too big; make it smaller and start there.
Talk to yourself like a loving parent or a good friend
One of the secrets of therapy is that it is an intimate process of helping clients ‘re-parent’ themselves by having the therapist act as a loving, consistent, supportive surrogate. Would a loving parent or good friend be as hard on you as you are being on yourself? Would you be as hard on a good friend as you are on yourself? Practice interrupting any stream of negativity and self-judgment with love, kindness and compassion. It can feel difficult at times, but deep down, you’ve known how to do this since you were a child. You can be kind to yourself. Practice it :)For more helpful tips on how to be your own therapist, check out our blog archives.