It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…
No, I am not going to wax poetic about a Charles Dickens novel. I am going to talk about feelings and emotions. If you’re like me, and find yourself on an emotional rollercoaster from time to time, then I suggest you keep reading.
I am not trying to make light of Dickens’ novel in any way, but that quote came to mind recently when I thought about emotions. We can start out the day in a very negative manner, and most of the time you come around and you start to feel better. Is it because the day is over, and you’re just thankful to be able to move on? Or is it because we gave ourselves the time and the energy to put things into perspective?
There is a lot to say about emotions themselves, but it is important to take the negative emotions and channel them into something positive.
So what is it that you’re feeling?
When we get into a situation that is potentially stressful or upsetting, it is important to understand what the emotion is that you’re feeling. Are you happy? Are you sad? Are you frustrated? Really take the time to think about what it is that is happening within you. Unless you identify the emotion, you won’t be able to understand how to deal with it properly.
Not understanding your feelings can make this first step a difficult one. You might want to try writing down your immediate thoughts, and come back to them at a later time. I often find that I am better able to identify my feelings when I am not having them. When I am not in the moment. Simply put, if I am in a situation that upsets me, I find that it’s better for me to put those emotions on hold until a later time when I am able to really drill down and work through the feeling.
This is not a solution for everyone. If you find that you understand enough about your emotions to be able to identify them immediately, do so.
There are many apps now that will allow you to track your emotions throughout the day. This might help you to identify when you are feeling the emotion. Does it happen during that same weekly meeting? Or every day when you meet your neighbour outside at the mailbox?
Once you identify what it is you’re feeling (and when), you now need to decide how you will handle the emotion in the short term.
To suppress or express? That is the question.
If you find yourself in a public place, or even a work setting and you start to have a negative emotion or feeling, your best bet is to suppress the feeling temporarily. The last thing you want is to be known as the hot head or cry baby of the office. (Note – the key here is temporarily! Use this technique with caution.)
If you are in a safe setting expressing the emotion will go a long way in moving past it.
Crying or screaming in your car, if you are safely parked, is a better option than bottling it up. Don’t hold back. Let it out.
If you just got out of a meeting with the most narcissistic, condescending human being on the planet, I urge you to go to your car and have the real conversation you wanted to have with that person. This happens to be a favourite technique of mine, and I can often be seen driving home from the office talking to myself. We can’t curse out our bosses, or coworkers, but sometimes it gives us the relief that we need to be able to process the scenario.
Suppressing the emotion will only delay its expression. I say this with years of experience in this realm. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place to suppress emotions, as I’ve just mentioned. However, you will feel much better if you express the emotion as quickly as possible. You may find yourself in a situation where you aren’t able to express the emotions for a few hours. Hang in there and refer to my techniques listed below for short-term relief.
As you work through identifying the emotion, and having your cry, you should also really think about what started you down this path.
What is causing the emotion?
Was it actually your boss that made you want to run down the street screaming? Or was it because your child accidentally broke your favourite mug this morning?
Identifying the cause might be just as important as identifying the emotion itself. If you can figure out what the issue is, you will start to be able to recognize these triggers so that when the emotion crops up, you can deal with it effectively.
Put it into perspective. Your child broke your favourite mug, and you’re upset, but now you can go out and get that fancy new mug that you’ve been dying to get!
We all have bad days from time to time. Don’t think of these as the end of the world. Understand that you are human and that tomorrow is a new day.
I can tell that I am going to have a bad day when I wake up with a migraine. No, the migraine doesn’t cause the bad day necessarily (it certainly doesn’t help), but I know that I am much less equipped to deal with things when I am suffering from a migraine. Not everyone wakes up and just knows that the day is going to be crummy. If you wake up feeling like you’re working with an emotional deficit, change your plans when possible. This doesn’t mean calling in sick to work, but if you were scheduled to spend the afternoon with a high maintenance friend and you just can’t listen to one more of her stories, tell her you need to reschedule.
If your boss is continually micromanaging you and it’s causing you to stress out, take a step back. Understand the cause and effect. Does the micromanaging make you feel incompetent? Really take the time to think about what is causing you to feel a certain way.
It is easy to think about emotions from a macro perspective, but how do you deal with them on a micro level?
Here are a few techniques that might help you to get through the immediate moment:
- Practice breathing. Focus on inhaling, followed by a strong exhale. Do this for 20 or 30 seconds and see how you feel. If there is no change, do it for another 30 seconds, until you feel calm.
- Meditate. This might not be something you can always do in the moment. If you find yourself in a stressful situation at work, and you’re able to, shut your door or find a quiet place to relax. Focus on your breathing and relax your muscles. Meditating is a great mindfulness technique and something I highly recommend you incorporate into your day. If you’re not sure where to start, try an app that focuses on guided meditation.
- Phone a friend. I had a conversation with a friend of mine a few months ago, where I mentioned that my emotions had got the better of me. What I wasn’t expecting was for her to say – the next time you are feeling that way, you need to call me. Just pick up the phone. All good friends will answer and talk you through it. If they don’t, they’re not a good friend and that is the topic for another post.
- Write down your thoughts. I have never been very good at opening up to those who are closest to me, which made it hard when I started to realize that I couldn’t run from my feelings any longer. I always felt like I was a burden, or that I was overreacting to a situation. What I did find helpful was writing it down. This is especially true if you are in the heat of the moment, and can’t find your way out. Jot it down on a piece of paper or notebook. Open up the “notes” app on your phone. Draft an email and send it to yourself. Whatever works for you, do it. I have a notebook that I keep next to my bed. There are many random diatribes in there that wouldn’t make sense to an outsider. It helps me organize to my thoughts and feelings as I attempt to figure out my next steps towards a solution.
- Count to 10. Sing a song. Play a game on your phone. Paint or draw. Talk to yourself.
Find a technique that works for you. Writing and meditating are my suggestions, however, maybe you are more creative and painting is more your thing. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it gives you the ability to calm down and the insight to help you to move forward.
Learn from the emotion.
You’ve been able to identify what the emotion is, and what is causing it… but what do you take away from it?
Don’t get bogged down right away if you’re not able to identify what the lesson is. Take the time to work through those other steps first to truly understand what it is you’re feeling and why you are feeling it. Once you have that established, you will be better equipped to identify the lesson.
Identifying the lesson may not come the first, second or even third time you have this emotion, but trust me, it will come. It might even feel like an epiphany. You might be sitting at your desk one day, not even thinking about your emotions when it hits you.
I can’t say this enough, but write it down! You want to be able to remember it, and really think about it. Especially the next time you start to have that emotion. The more you go through these steps, the easier it will be to break the cycle.
What not to do.
It is easy to get lost in our emotions. To get caught up in the moment. To not be able to see your way out, but you will get there. This next list is one that is very near and dear to my heart. It is a list of things not to do… and comes from first hand experience.
- Emotional spinning. Don’t let your thoughts over take your brain and spin out of control. I find it easy to jump from one doomsday scenario to the next. It literally doesn’t even require thinking on my part. My brain just goes from one bad scenario to the next and to the next, until I am too far down the rabbit hole to pull myself out. Don’t do it. Light always follows the darkness, and these situations are no different.
- Don’t beat yourself up about it. We all make mistakes. We are all human. Accept that you’re not perfect, learn from it and move on.
- Stop over analyzing. I am an expert in analysis paralysis. Like emotional spinning, I am able to analyze almost everything to death.. And then to continue analyzing even though the issue is dead. Analysis is a rational thought process, you can’t bring it into your thoughts when they aren’t rational. Trust me on this one. No good comes from analyzing when you are in the midst of an emotion.
- Stop trying to control every aspect of the situation.
- Don’t use your feelings as a reason to pick up a bad habit or two. Sure, a bad breakup might elicit some uncomfortable emotions, and require a night on the town with some friends, but don’t make it a regular occurrence. We find ways to cope with our emotions because we can’t handle the feeling of being on the edge. It’s a scary place. Sometimes even lonely. However, no amount of food or alcohol is going to fill the void. Deal with the issues when they come up and put down the Jack Daniels.
While I don’t profess to be an expert on emotions, I have had a fair share of experience with them over the last year. The techniques listed above are things that I try to keep in mind when I am struggling with emotions. Especially when I feel overwhelmed. Breathing and writing are the two things that allow me to find that perspective.
I cannot emphasize this enough, suppressing emotions will only cause you more pain and trouble down the road. It will manifest itself in ways that you don’t understand. You will find yourself at the grocery store, trying to decide on the best type of margarine to buy when you will be overcome with a random thought, which will lead to you standing in the dairy aisle bawling your eyes out. I do not wish that for anyone, including my worst enemy. We all have our ups and downs in life. These can be episodic or they can be prolonged. Emotions are part of our fabric. They aren’t going away. It pains me to say that we have to learn how to deal with them. When we get too far into the darkness we should think about the positives in Dickens’ quote: the best of times, the age of wisdom, the epoch of belief, the season of light, the spring of hope, and having everything before us.