Oh emotions, you can bring us such joy yet be SO unpleasant at times. Yes, unpleasant NOT bad. There are many functional and wonderful purposes of what many like to label as bad emotions. Don’t believe us? Hold tight we’ll explain in a bit. For now you’ll just have to trust our recommendation of describing emotions as pleasant and unpleasant. Are you wanting a better handle on controlling those unpleasant emotions? Here are 5 quick tips to get you started:
Recognize your emotions serve a purpose
Emotions are hard-wired, biological processes. Every single emotion we have serves a purpose. We feel anxious to motivate and keep us safe, sad to acknowledge things that are important to us, angry to protect ourselves/others from being hurt or to address barriers in working towards our goals. It is important to recognize the function and purpose of each emotional response as this can guide and direct us on how to respond to our emotions and allow them to do their job.
Acknowledge Your Emotions
If we had a quarter for each time we encountered emotional restrictors we would be rich! Now that you understand our emotions serve a purpose, let’s use an analogy of spoiled food here (sorry in advance for a slightly gross example, but it’s a good one and not too graphic so hang in there). When we eat food that is spoiled or harmful to our bodies, our system has a process for digesting and processing this to help us feel better (e.g. vomit or bowel movement). Like harmful food, we must also process and digest unpleasant emotional experiences. If we restrict or cut off our emotional experiences, it is much like trying to stop our bodies from digesting harmful food. It would NOT feel pleasant to have that harmful food sitting inside our bodies. Emotions are much the same. Emotions are messages and signals to us and they want our attention. Acknowledge their presence and let them do their job! Research shows that merely acknowledging emotions reduces their intensity.
Manage your vulnerabilities
Hangry—need we say more? We all know that when we are faced with vulnerabilities such as hunger, fatigue, illness, pain, or recent stressors, we have a much harder time handling new stress. The more you can be on top of managing vulnerabilities or at least acknowledging their presence the more likely you will be on the right path to managing those unpleasant emotions. If you cannot prevent vulnerabilities we often recommend at least acknowledging their presence and coming up with a plan for how you will handle your day accordingly. Do you need extra self care? More support from others? Less expectations for today? More self compassion?
Catch Your emotions before they grow
So often we wait to manage our distress until it’s too late. We may notice the unpleasant emotion building yet we do nothing about it. The bigger and more intense emotions are, the harder they are to control. One fun fact is that emotions love themselves. For example, when we are sad we tend to want to listen to sad music or watch a sad show. Therefore, in the early stages of emotional intensity, many can often feed the exact emotion they are not wanting to experience. Or many may have a short window of opportunity to notice the emotion before it intensifies (0 to 60 anyone?). Or perhaps you just aren’t paying attention until it’s too late? Being aware of the early signals and triggers of our emotions is key. Once you know your signals and triggers of growing emotions, come up with a plan ahead of time for how you will manage when they do pop up.
Create a distress tolerance kit
During times of distress our brains functionally do not work the same. We are less able to access our thinking and problem solving part of our brain, which means our emotions run the show. We have all been there. So why not make it easy for yourself? Do the thinking ahead of time and create a kit of all of your coping skills. Use a shoebox, a bag, the note section on your phone, and put actual items or a list of potential skills to use. Pictures of enjoyable memories, comforting scents (e.g. lavender), fidgets, calming music or reminders of songs that you enjoy. The ideas are endless so get creative! Once you’ve finished your kit place it somewhere you will have easy access to or create one for multiple locations such as home, your car, or work.
As much as we don’t like them, unpleasant emotions are very much a part of the human experience. At times, our emotions become too big or too unmanageable, and we need and deserve extra support. Are you wanting support in managing your unpleasant emotions? Are you wanting to increase your experience of pleasant emotions? Consider getting some extra support and schedule an appointment at our Mahtomedi counseling practice today. We are here to help Embolden YOU!