As smug as this cliché may sound, it’s true. Even if we’ve been blessed with the “happy” gene, we cannot avoid feeling emotionally uncomfortable from time to time.
We feel things for a reason. Our emotional pain carries a message.
If someone close to us passes away, it’s natural for us to grieve and feel sad.
If we receive a dire medical diagnosis, we’re likely to feel anxiety.
When something important to us doesn’t go our way, we may feel disappointed or angry.
To try and push down our feelings in such (and many other) instances would be akin to taking the battery out of our home’s fire alarm if it goes off, rather than checking out the reason why the alarm is blaring.
Dealing with emotional pain often entails that we weather the painful feelings. Sometimes the intensity or duration of our emotions can become detrimental. In other cases, what we’re feeling is just par for the course. In any event, tolerating an upsetting emotion can teach us a lot about ourselves while also giving us a chance to practice healthy self-care.
No matter how loving our family and friends may be, we are the only person who has been, is, and will be with us 24/7, for our entire life. So, it behooves us to learn effective self-nurturing skills in preparation for an emotional storm.
- Notice what’s going on around you. Focus your attention on what you can see around you. Flowers… your couch… a car outside your window. Notice what you can hear. The car honking… birds chirping… a lawn mower. Move on to what you can smell, taste, or touch. This technique helps to ground you in the here-and-now while also giving you a little distance from your pain – just enough of a step back to make things easier to tolerate.
- Notice what’s going on within you. First, take some slow, deep belly breaths to center yourself. Then, ask yourself where in your body you sense your current feelings. Does your chest feel tight? Does your face feel warm? Do your hands feel cold? Simply investigate what you’re experiencing, without commentary.
- Investigate your belief. What are you telling yourself about your present situation? Instead of saying, “I will never get over this” or “I can’t stand this feeling,” repeat encouraging and soothing phrases such as, “This too shall pass” or “This is really uncomfortable, but I can stand it”. Choose thoughts that support the belief that you can bear whatever comes your way.
- Spend some time with your pet. If you’re fortunate to own a dog, cat, or other critter, cuddle with your pet and bask in his/her unconditional love. Learn from your pet’s example how to offer the same compassion to yourself. You might even “borrow” some pet time from one of your friends. Once when I was very sad and lying in bed silently weeping, my two cats gently put their paws right under my eyes. Such a sweet demonstration of caring.
- Get out in nature. Take a walk in a park, stroll down a tree-lined street, or enjoy a sunrise or sunset. Studies have shown that being in nature calms the nervous system. Also, the majesty of nature can inspire awe and help provide us some perspective on our personal situation.
- Cope ahead. Do you tend to worry about problems that may develop down the line? If this sounds like you, consider the worst-case scenario and how you would manage it. Say to yourself, “If this happens, I can try a, b, or c.” Think about the resources at your disposal. If you need to investigate additional methods of help, do so now. It’s sort of like having an earthquake kit – you may never need it, but it can give you peace of mind to know that you’re equipped, should the dreaded occur.
- Write in a journal. Getting your feelings and thoughts down on paper allows you to express and explore your current experience in a safe place. No need to censor your words. Get it all out. As part of your writing, you might consider offering some kind feedback to yourself, as if you are speaking from your Wise Mind. This can also be an excellent opportunity to practice being a kind and loving parent to yourself.
- Don’t run from your pain. As long as we don’t ruminate about a painful experience or loss for too long, learning to sit with our feelings can lessen our fear about potentially challenging situations in the future.
Often our anticipation of discomfort leads to a greater degree of angst than if we trust that we’ll be able to handle what comes our way while at the same time acting in line with our values. What better way to build this emotional muscle than by practicing compassionate mindfulness in the face of fear, rejection, anger, or confusion?