How to Deal With Negative Emotions Using Mindfulness
Lately I've been reading a lot about stress and anger and I've learned to tame my responses and to be less judgmental of others. And to tell you the truth, it has worked wonders! Being less judgmental of others has really cleared up a lot of the stress and anger I had been feeling. However, I was still stuck with being too judgmental with myself. I was letting the faults of others slide, while piling them up all on myself. Needless to say, this led to a whole bunch of negative emotions that had me as their target. And the worst part is that I couldn't escape them because the bully was living inside of me.
The bully inside yourself
We've heard a lot about bullying lately. There's bullying in schools, at homes, and now there's even cyberbullying. These are all very sad cases in which someone uses power or strength to intimidate or harm those who are weaker. The results are often disastrous.
Last time, while looking at myself in the mirror, I saw a bully.
"Look at you! You're so fat! And those love handles just keep getting bigger!"
"Your hair is hideous. How dare you go outside looking like that."
There was no one else in the room except me. I was my own bully. I was making myself feel miserable and I was harming myself by replaying these constant, negative thoughts that kept interfering with my self-esteem. I was really angry. I was angry at myself for looking so hideous. I was angry for not accomplishing what I thought that by now I should have accomplished. And my bully made sure I knew that every step of the way.
Letting Go of Negative Emotions
Negative emotions stick to you like gum to your shoe on a hot day. Sometimes you feel them without even knowing that they are there. I had gotten so used to my negative emotions that I assumed that hating myself was normal. I assumed self-deprecation was what everyone did. Boy, was I wrong!
I got tired of the bullying. I got tired of not being able to live peacefully with the one person that's with me all day, every day: ME.
So I looked for help. I had heard about something called Mindfulness. The idea really attracted me...
Emotions and Mindfulness
Mindfulness doesn't seek to shun the emotion away nor to gain some deep insight into your childhood problems. Mindfulness simply seeks to make you aware of your emotions, so that you can see how they manifest in your body, and so that you can be better prepared to respond appropriately and to remain calm even in the face of disaster.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness encompasses mainly two things:
- Being deliberately aware of your thoughts and your feelings.
- Having an open attitude toward your thoughts and your feelings without judging.
One of the exercises in mindfulness is focusing on your emotions. In order to do this exercise, there's a handy little acronym that can help you while doing this exercise: R.A.I.N.
R - Recognition
A - Acceptance
I - Investigation
N - Non-identification
Let's go through each one of them.
Recognition involves recognizing and labeling your emotions. Just labeling an emotion can make you feel more in control of your thoughts and actions. Instead of letting your emotions take over your body, you could say:
"This is anger."
"This is how fear feels."
By labeling your emotions, you being the process of Cognitive Appraisal, which is the personal interpretation you give to a situation. You start giving yourself the chance to interpret how something makes you feel and this alone can help you calm down.
You don't have to be exact in how you feel. Sometimes emotions can be complicated, and we feel a mixture of anger and embarrassment, or a mixture of fear and sadness. Sometimes there's an exact word for how we feel, sometimes there isn't. The important part is to get as close to describing the emotion as possible. Just give a close approximation of the emotion. Once again, in this phase of RAIN, you're only labeling. Don't overanalyze anything just yet.
Accepting emotions is not accepting actions
Accepting your emotions doesn't mean that it's okay to act on every single one of your emotions. Accepting you're angry doesn't give you the liberty to punch the person making you mad. Accepting you're sad doesn't mean you have the right to isolate yourself. Accepting an emotion is accepting that it's okay to feel the way you do, and that this, too, will pass.
Once you know what you're feeling, accept it. Have you ever seen a child crying because he just lost his toy? When he comes over to you for comfort, what do you tell him? You might find yourself saying something like this:
"It's okay, we'll find your toy."
"We will get you another one."
"Come, let's go look for it together."
Notice how you accept how the child feels and try to help him resolve his situation. But at no point do you tell the child that feeling sad is not an acceptable way to feel. Instead, you compassionately offer to help him feel better.
Why not do the same with your emotions? Accept the way you feel. Compassionately tell yourself that whatever you are feeling it's okay. Don't criticize yourself for it, don't blame yourself for it, don't judge yourself for it.
*Think of your emotions as your inner child running to you for protection. Don't scare him away. Comfort him and offer ways to make him feel better. *
Accepting an emotion also means that you are going to allow yourself to feel what you're feeling. You're not going to hide or pretend that the emotion isn't there. Sometimes we try so hard not to feel a certain way, that exhausted by fighting that emotion. When you're in this phase of Accepting, notice what kind of reaction you have to certain emotion. You might find yourself thinking:
"Yikes, I hate feeling anxious (or angry, or nervous, etc.)
Do you have an aversion to specific emotion? Remove the aversion and allow yourself to feel. Remember, don't judge the emotion. Simply let it be.
When you're investigating how your body reacts to certain emotions, check one body part at a time.
- How does your stomach feel? Tight, heavy, burning sensation?
- How does your chest feel? Do you feel any vibration, tightness or movement?
- How about your throat? Clenched up?
- Your face? Hot, cold?
Investigate each body part and describe how each one feels.
Once you know the name of your emotion and once you have accepted it, stop and see how this emotion makes your body feel. If you're scared you might notice increased heart beat, or if you're sad you might notice a lump in your throat. We all react differently to emotions. So stop and investigate how this particular emotion manifests itself in your body.
One important side of investigation is not getting caught up in the story of the symptom. For example, if you're feeling anxious you might feel extreme chest pressure, and you may begin thinking:
"Oh my gosh, I just know I'm gonna have a heart attack. I need to exercise more, I need to eat less junk food. What if I die? I haven't gotten my will in order yet..."
It's easy to let one symptom distract us from how we're feeling. Just feel. Investigate how this emotion makes you feel and don't get worked up about the symptoms.
"I feel my heart racing, and I feel the blood rushing to my head. I also feel my extremities shaking and I feel a lump in my throat. This is the reaction my body has to anger..."
Become a witness of your symptoms.
In this phase you stop identifying yourself with the emotions. You realize that the emotion doesn't make you who you are. Just because you're feeling angry, doesn't mean you're an angry person. In fact, instead of saying "I'm angry", you can say "I have anger."
Realize that these are emotions, not your emotions. Emotions are simply energy in motion. They are energy that is passing through you. They come and go. They don't stay and change your personality. During this phase you may repeat:
"I am not the emotion."
Mindfulness takes practice. It demands that you set aside some time for you to get to know yourself better. Give yourself some quality time. Learn to control those emotions so that can respond better, even in the face of difficult situations.
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