Do you find yourself experiencing inconsolable crying spells? Does your anger make you see red or even purple? When you’re anxious, does it feel impossible to focus on anything else?
Our emotions are our bodies’ responses to external stimuli. Emotions themselves are neutral; we all have them, but that doesn’t mean they can’t seem debilitating and insurmountable when they arise.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t know how to cope with our emotions. We tend to numb, suppress, rationalize, or deny them. Sometimes, we hurt ourselves or others in response. But learning how to deal with your emotions is one of the best safeguards you can have for your mental health. Let’s get into what you need to know.
Learn To Identify Your Emotions
How many times have you yelled at your spouse before you even realized you were irritated? Or devoured a bowl of ice cream before recognizing you felt lonely?
We all react to our emotions- both in positive and negative ways. For example, let’s consider our driving habits. When you’re happy and relaxed, you tend to be more forgiving and patient on the road. But when you’re angry and stressed, you’re probably less willing to let people merge, and you might even experience road rage over minor traffic.
Learning to identify your emotions is a necessary skill for optimal well-being. If you don’t know what you’re feeling, life may seem utterly out of control. It may seem like your actions are running you- rather than the other way around.
The next time you are finding yourself acting unfavorably, take a moment to pause. Reflect. What do you feel right now? If you’re inexperienced with identifying emotions, it may be helpful to print out a copy of a feelings wheel. Scan through your body and examine the sensations.
What’s swelling inside of you- that sensation is the feeling you’re having. And remember, we can feel multiple emotions at the same time! It’s normal to feel three or four feelings simultaneously.
Accept The Emotion
We are so quick to want to change discomfort. Many of us turn to our preferred escape mechanisms to squash unpleasant emotions. These escape mechanisms may include:
Gambling or shopping
Escaping through technology (television, Internet, music)
Compulsive sex or promiscuity
Staying constantly busy so you don't have to stop and deal with your emotions
We may also resort to maladaptive interpersonal skills like passive-aggressive communication, hostility, silent treatment, or other manipulation tactics.
Instead of trying to pretend our emotions don’t exist, it’s almost always better to acknowledge and accept them for what they are. You don’t choose your emotions- they are just natural, human impulses. You do, however, choose your responses, and that’s the area you can control.
Make A Working List of Coping Skills
Unless you’re a robot, difficult emotions are an inevitable part of the human process. Life throws various curveballs at us, and we often feel overwhelmed and underprepared when they happen.
While we can’t mitigate the risk of stress, we can learn healthier ways to handle it when it arises.
Healthy coping skills honor your emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. They allow you to react to the emotion without hurting yourself or others. There are many different coping skills to consider, and many people need to experiment with several of them to determine which ones work best. Some examples include:
Different emotions may call for different coping skills. For example, if you’re feeling furious, a hard workout may be incredibly effective for releasing this tension. If you’re struggling with worry, engaging in some breathing exercises may be best.
Play The Tape Forward
This phrase is a common one in psychotherapy, and for a good reason. It’s a way to help you envision how engaging in certain actions now can impact your future. For example, let’s say a bad day at work triggers shopping sprees after leaving the office. Over time, this routine becomes more and more habitual. It reaches the point where, as soon as your boss even starts discussing your latest project, it’s like the mall calls your name.
What consequences do you face as a result of this work anxiety pattern? Maybe you begin experiencing financial hardships. Perhaps you start lying to your partner and hiding receipts in your purse or car. What feelings arise as a result of those repeated actions? Often, you feel even more guilt, stress, and anxiety- the very emotions you probably aimed to placate in the first place.
Playing the tape forward acts as a guided visualization. The stressed employee can imagine two scripts. In the first script, she heads to the mall to mindlessly shop after work. But, in another script, perhaps she chooses to detour to the local park and take a long walk with her dog. Which script lands her with the desired outcome?
This exercise can help you think of more realistic solutions for coping with your emotions. Changing habits takes time. Playing the tape forward allows you to see the benefits of new behaviors.
How To Deal With Your Emotions In All Situations
We all want to handle life with grace, but most of us don’t know where to start! Low self-esteem, trauma, depression or problems with our mental health can make this task feel downright impossible.
Therapy can help you learn how to deal with your emotions- regardless of your past or present circumstances. Together, we can explore healthy ways of managing distress. And together, we can create a path paved for positive growth and change.