“Never let fear decide your fate…” – from Kill Your Heroes by AWOLNATION

“I get furious at the people I love for no good reason.”

“I am almost always stressed first thing in the morning.”

“My anxiety is keeping me from enjoying the results of my hard work.”

“I spend a lot of my time worrying and being afraid about things that never happen.”

These are quotes from my clients — great, talented, hardworking, thoughtful, successful people. No matter how successful they are, they are human. This means that they feel difficult emotions.

Emotions are a natural and necessary part of life. They add texture and meaning to our experience. Uncomfortable feelings such as fear, anger, sadness, frustration, anxiety, and stress are normal and healthy. When they show up, however, we often feel the need to get rid of them.

We might yell, isolate ourselves, brood, eat, drink, complain, blame, gossip, check email, gaze into our smartphone, or engage in some other behavior in an attempt to avoid feeling discomfort. Many of our habitual responses take a lot of energy and do not yield the results we are looking for. In fact, our familiar ways of dealing with emotional discomfort may even do damage to our relationships or our physical health.

Having simple, concrete, healthy, and effective ways to work with difficult emotions can be a life-changer. We can find greater calm, clarity, and connection right in the midst of internal discomfort. We can discover the authentic confidence to deal with external challenges because we are able to work peacefully with the internal feelings associated with them.

Here are two simple, concrete, healthy, and effective practices for working with the weighty and energetic emotions in our lives.

  1. Pay attention with acceptance. Sit quietly everyday for a few minutes and notice where you feel stuff in your body. A great way to do this is to pay attention to your breath. The goal is not to “clear your mind.” The goal is simply to notice what goes on inside your body. Your attention will wander. When you notice that you are thinking about something and not paying attention to the sensations in your body, just bring your attention back. When you notice something uncomfortable, just notice and accept that this is part of your human experience. With practice, you can learn to accept all kinds of internal experience without needing to treat it as the truth or as a threat.
  2. When you are feeling a particularly unwanted feeling, try putting your hand gently on your chest in the area you associate with kindness. Practice saying the following to yourself as calmly and sincerely possible.

“This is a feeling.”

“Feelings pass.”

Your name, you have what you need.”

As strange as it might feel at first, it is helpful to actually touch your chest with your hand, to use your first name, and to smile gently as you do this.

The goal is not to get rid of the feeling. The goal is to accept that this feeling is part of life and that you are free to live your life in its presence.

No matter how good your life is, you are going to experience uncomfortable emotions because they are a normal part of being human. It seems that we may as well learn to work with them.

 

Supporting Research

Dundas, I., Binder, P. E., Hansen, T. G., & Stige, S. H. (2017). Does a short self‐compassion intervention for students increase healthy self‐regulation? A randomized control trial. Scandinavian journal of psychology.

Kashdan, T. B., & Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 865-878.

Kross, E., Bruehlman-Senecal, E., Park, J., Burson, A., Dougherty, A., Shablack, H., … & Ayduk, O. (2014). Self-talk as a regulatory mechanism: how you do it matters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106(2), 304.

Kemp, A. H., & Quintana, D. S. (2013). The relationship between mental and physical health: insights from the study of heart rate variability. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 89(3), 288-296.

Park, D., Yu, A., Metz, S. E., Tsukayama, E., Crum, A. J., & Duckworth, A. L. (2017). Beliefs About Stress Attenuate the Relation Among Adverse Life Events, Perceived Distress, and Self‐Control. Child Development.