Whilst strong emotions don't kill us, sometimes they sure feel like they might. Here is a break down of how to use mindfulness to deal with strong emotions.
I have a confession to make. Recently I begged my GP to give me antidepressants. Those that know me know my views on antidepressants know how out of character this is.
My GP, bless him, who knows all about the many businesses I have and the details of my heinous break up, looked me in the eye and said.
"Madison, you’re a therapist, you know you don’t meet the criteria for depression and I can't give you medication. You’re going to have to sit with it.”
Not going to lie, my initial thought was screw you GP, but atlas I know he is right. Sever loss and grief despite having similarities with depression is not depression. And well my GPs advice is one of the many reasons I respect him so much.
So I thought time to swallow some of my own medication. Being a Counsellor, the medicine I dish out to those that I treat is called talk therapy. I act as a mirror to show blind spots, I challenge unhelpful self-talk and beliefs and I teach life skills. A life skill that I teach often is sitting with an emotion a mindfulness exercise.
Sitting with an emotion to put it simply is when experiencing a strong emotion, whether it be anger or sadness or fear, often it’s a combination. When experiencing the emotion, rather than reacting, rather than feeding the emotion you simply experience it. Whilst experiencing it listen to what it is trying to tell you. Simply observe it.
Now when doing this its very easy to get overwhelmed, when you feel everything coming on too strong. Usually you will find that your thoughts become compulsive, intrusive, its like your brain is out to destroy you. This is where you mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness is a skill used to help control your thoughts by becoming aware of your current external environment. I'll demonstrate this in an example.
So I was in the shower, my world was falling apart. I was mess. I was in pain. I’m trying to listen to my emotions but they are too loud.
So I simply become aware.
Where am I? I am sitting in my shower. The water is on my back. It’s probably a little too hot. I’m looking at shelves I installed. I can see two of my favourite body washes. The cap is off both of them. On the floor I can see that there is a bottle of spray and wipe. My rubbish bin looks like it could be emptied.
Right now, despite my emotional state, nothing is happening. All my fears, the thoughts in my head, they are happening in a vacuum. There is no triggering event, no current emergency. Right now I am allowing my brain to torture me.
Becoming aware of the exact situation you are in takes the punch out of the strong emotions. By noticing your emotional state you are able to feel distance between you and your emotions. Quite frankly, the emotions are still there. You’ve just turned down the volume. Now that your emotions are speaking to you, not yelling, you can much more easily listen. And this is where you gain insight; this is where you gain personal awareness.
The beautiful thing about emotions is they are a link between our subconscious and conscious selves. When we are feeling the negative ones they are the way our subconscious is telling us that our current world is incongruent with our deepest core beliefs and values. They do this by stepping in and creating intrusive thoughts that highlight our deepest fears and hurts. The positive emotions speak to us too. They act as a way for our subconscious to validate our life’s experiences to say that everything is ok in our world, meaning that we are congruent with our internal beliefs and values.
So the next time you’re experiencing strong emotions, try the above exercises and listen to what they are telling you. If we continue to try to battle the symptoms through silencing them, how do we expect to ever cure the reason for them? It's like if someone with bone cancer, if they just continually took medication for the pain without ever asking what was causing the pain, the cancer would end up killing them. Emotions are no different.
I’m going to end with a caveat. I’ve shared today that I do not believe in antidepressants, my beliefs were formed though my degree, through understanding how they work, through reading the research of their efficacy. However in life, I see and know of many people who use antidepressants with positive benefits. Above all else I believe that there are many tools to use to get through this life, antidepressants, talk therapy and life skills are some, the trick is working out which ones are the best for you to use. And no one, not me, not any doctor can honestly tell you which is the right one for you. You and you alone, need to decide.
So when reading my writing, or if I am personally counselling you, if something I say rings true to you, use it, if it doesn’t then discard it. I always say that if anyone in the psychological field had found the one tool that always worked we would have a life free of mental distress and one really rich person.