I have only been up for two hours. I woke up and within minutes I was feeling grumpy because during the night the dog had deposited a big nasty one on the floor, then I felt guilty because I didn’t go to gym, then I felt frustrated because there was no coffee in the house and then an SMS informed me that there had been a payment into my bank account and now I am feeling elated.
Everyone’s emotions come and go, but what are they exactly? Modern neuroscience has found that emotions are processes performed by our brain. Our brains are influenced by our evolution and by our own individual history. The brain combines the external perception that something important is happening in our lives with internal low-level perceptions of bodily changes (heart rate, breathing etc.) and the result is an emotion- a pattern of neural activity which co-ordinates inputs from external senses and bodily states and helps us respond.
If we look at emotions as messages or data that are telling us that something is going on, then we can accept that we are not our emotions- our feelings are fleeting and we can let them go. But for many of us negative emotions can be overwhelming and crippling. Suppressing them will do more harm than good so here is a 5 step strategy to help you deal with feeling bad:
- Name the emotion, accept it and recognize that it won’t last. Remind yourself that tomorrow you will probably feel differently.
- Put some distance between you and the emotion. Don’t think “I am an idiot” but rather think “Well, that was an idiotic thing to do”; rather rephrase “I am so useless” as “I haven’t yet done anything useful in this situation”.
- Try and identify what’s triggering the emotion. Change the trigger if you can, or at least do something different- leave the room, go for a walk, play music through your headphones, recite a poem, watch a silly comedy.
- Practise self-compassion. Speak to yourself in a gentle, comforting way, acknowledge that you are doing the best you can to cope. Put both hands on your heart space and tell yourself that it is ok to have this feeling.
- Science has proven that exercise and meditation significantly reduce negative thoughts and emotions. Start today- just do it!