How to manage difficult feelings

I heard the other day that it’s good news if you experience difficult feelings and painful emotions as it means you are not a psychopath and you are not dead. I guess it’s one way of reframing how you’re feeling in a more positive way.

embracing all the feelings

I do take some comfort from learning that feeling a range of emotions is completely normal and actually means that I am functioning properly as a human being. I’m not keen on the painful ones as much as the next person isn’t, however on the journey of life, there will be times when the going gets tough.

So what can you do to cope better when that happens?

observing

Try and sit back and observe the feelings. This is something I started doing in my early 20s without even realising it or having a label for it. Like most adults today, I had no formal education around processing emotions so when life started to get really challenging in those first years of being a proper grown up, I instinctively found it a good way to cope. I’d float up out of my body and watch what was going on. I’d imagine I was watching myself as if i was another person or on TV. It really helped give me some space between me and the pain, if that makes sense. Most importantly, it also helped me to rebalance and see things as an outsider would, which gave me perspective. From there, I could figure out what was happening and what I might want to do about it next.

tomorrow’s a new day

Tomorrow’s always another day. A longstanding cliche, but this has always really helped me at work in particular. Some days just everything seems to go wrong and it’s a case of letting it go and starting again afresh the following day. This can often help as it gives everyone and everything time and space to settle down. I find releasing control over situations can often prove much more helpful to me than trying even harder to sort things out. I see it a little like when you have a really knotty piece of string to untie – the harder you pull the ends, the tighter the knot can get.

leaning in

Sit with the pain. I hate this one as it really hurts. It also feels really counterintuitive as how can you sit back and just be when the problems and worries are all mounting up around you? This one is a real test to my character because I like to solve things. So I know doing it is going to cause additional pain. That’s another thing to sit back and process. i try and hold on to the fact that if I don’t sit with it, I won’t process it properly. Then it might manifest itself inside my body as a physical stress symptom or it will get buried in my head and pop out later as something even uglier. That gives me the incentive to sit tight – I know i will get through it usually in a few hours or overnight.

acceptance

Invite the pain in. Rumi’s poem The Guest House talks about this beautifully – asking us to invite those thoughts and emotions in with courage, warmth and respect. Another work in progress for me but what I do find interesting is reflecting on what the pain is being triggered by inside. it’s often something I’m scared about linked to an unhelpful belief that I’ve had for a long period of time. This gives me the opportunity to work on that and look at opportunities to reframe things.

sharing

Talk to someone – again another cliche – a problem shared is a problem halved. But it’s so true – however not something we always feel we can do. Being vulnerable is tough and the other pitfall can be how by sharing your feelings, you might trigger problems for the person you are talking to – particularly if they are very close to you. Choose the right person to talk to and make sure you have the trust in place to enable that conversation to be helpful. Sometimes it might be best to talk to someone completely independent but that has your best interests at heart, like a counsellor or a coach.

moving

Move your body and shake it off. Dance like no-one is watching, run round the garden, go for a reflective walk. I love a walk – this sorts most things out for me and of course I have my yoga practice. When I’m really upset, I also like to do some cardio boxing – it’s a good feeling to know you are getting fitter for the next round.

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