In a time when much of life feels beyond our control and emotions can feel overwhelming, managing emotions through mindfulness may offer the key to finding calm during the storm. Amidst the uncertainty of Coronavirus, we are collectively noticing many daily experiences with a new urgency and clarity. From the way we motivate ourselves, how we place trust in our work, to how quickly we consume a bag of clementines.
Stress, when rooted in issues of scarcity or uncertainty, can activate primal instincts of danger. We are more likely to feel fearful and behave reactively, setting off chain reactions of stress and conflict.
However, these experiences offer opportunities to notice how we do things and choose to change. There are practicable mental skills to handle the ins and outs of complicated emotional experiences. Skills like emotional recognition and regulation. Practicing these skills can help you take care of yourself so that you are better mentally prepared to handle both internal and external challenges. Dr. Dan Siegel’s recent book, Mindsight, provides a beautiful illustration of how we can learn to witness our emotions rather than become captive to them.
Tune Into Your Feelings
Recognizing emotions is an important part of “mindfulness”. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines mindfulness as a state of moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment.
Mindfulness teaches the mind to pause what it is doing and pay attention to what is in the present. This leads to the ability to consciously choose the next right thing to do, moment-to-moment.
There is a reason why this word has become a critical talking point in systems such as childhood education, psychological healthcare, and the wellness industry. Research has consistently shown mindfulness exercises decreased emotional reactivity, improve the stress response and improve self-control and wellbeing. Mindfulness practices teach people of all ages and backgrounds emotional intelligence and regulation. The result is a domino effect of benefits to mental health, clarity, flexibility, and the ability to respond effectively to stress.
The goal of mindfulness is to reach a heightened state of emotional intentionality and wellbeing through present-moment awareness. The most successful mindfulness practices are based on your knowledge of yourself and what you like.
It is easier to be present when you are experiencing something that makes you feel good! What is it that makes you feel good?
It may be the sounds or sights in nature, the rush of exercise, or wrapping up in a cozy blanket. Making a practice of finding a small moments or feel-good experiences every day are a great way to start. When you encounter or create that moment, fully enjoy it. Focus your attention on what that enjoyment feels like. Try to engage all five senses and feel it both physically and emotionally, if possible. When the experience is over, let it go and move on to whatever the next thing you need to do is.
Once this becomes a practice that feels easy, try building in some structure for yourself. Find a small moment that feels good as frequently as possible, or intermittently based on how busy you are. If you happen to be working from home and are struggling to stay on task, try making a work/play schedule for yourself. Practice finding a moment that feels good during the designated “play” time. This could be a stretch, watching something funny, talking to someone who makes you smile, lying down on your bed, snuggling a pet, eating a healthy but yummy snack. Anything that allows your mind to practice experiencing only what is directly in front of you!
Lean Into Challenging Emotions
Building skills of mindfulness naturally lead to an increased awareness of how you are feeling, so the next step is to build skills of caring for yourself when you are feeling challenging emotions such as stress, fear, or anger.
Challenging emotions will never go away – they are part of the whole experience of everyday life. What we can work on altering is how we react to and handle stressors and unpredictability.
This begins with awareness (mindfulness) practice, and building recognition of what is happening internally and externally at any given moment. With the development of this skill, you can begin to recognize when you are entering a challenging emotion and take action to help yourself through it.
Embrace What You Can Control (…and maybe your inner child)
Try to think of the last time you felt completely relaxed and comfortable. Now, make note of what was around you then, to the best of your ability. Were you cozy in a blanket? Hugging a loved one? Were you taking a hot shower or bath? There are many “resets” available that work for most people, and a good place to start is what soothed you as a child. Did you need a hug or space to be alone? Do you recall feeling exhilarated and stimulated, or was it something that helped your body relax and feel good? Perhaps it was an experience that made you feel supported and cared for.
Sometimes treating yourself like you would a young child, with compassion and understanding, can be healing. We treat our children the way we do because we love them and want to help them, and we deserve to afford the same kindness and care to ourselves.
Begin to try to pay attention to what is going on when something “bad” is happening in the present moment. Whether it is a negative interaction, a stressful deadline, or your cat knocking over and probably killing your favorite plant. These experiences offer an opportunity to take a moment to pause, breath and choose how to take care of yourself. Be fair and kind – do you need a break? What do you really, actually need? Do your best to give yourself the care that you need in challenging moments.
Feeling overwhelmed? Need support in managing challenging emotions? We are here to help. Reach out to a Sage House Therapist today to get support.