How to Deal with Difficult Emotions Using Mindfulness

Self-help gurus, doctors, writers and others often advise mindfulness as a tool anyone can use to improve their mental health, with the focus on being more present and aware. You can also use mindfulness like a scalpel to deal with more acute problems. Let’s look at how to use mindfulness to tackle specific emotions as they arise.


Turning Towards Emotions


Normally, when we experience negative emotions, we react either by trying to ‘fight them’ or by trying to suppress them, ‘turning away’ from our emotions to deny them their power over us. Unfortunately, this results in becoming more stressed or upset as the emotions bubble under the surface, or as we frustrate ourselves in trying to fight them.


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Mindfulness teaches us to turn towards our emotions. What this means is that you’re going to listen to the thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing and then simply acknowledge them. Now you say, ‘I’m stressed’, ‘I’m embarrassed’ or ‘I’m upset’. Don’t be ashamed or upset that emotion exists - simply recognize that you’re currently in that state.


People get upset sometimes. People get angry sometimes. But if you’re simply aware of your condition, then you can know perhaps the thoughts you’re thinking aren’t completely objective. What’s more, keep in mind that emotions aren’t permanent. You’re feeling angry right now, but your thoughts shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Because in a few hours, you’ll likely feel better and then the world will seem like a brighter place again.


This creates a subtle but powerful shift. No longer is the world a terrible place and thus you’re upset, now you are upset and so the world seems like a terrible place. The difference is that you now know that belief is not true.


A Shift in Perspective


What’s more, being aware and accepting of your emotions in this way will allow you to assess them in a kind of ‘debriefing’ and to look at what triggered them, how you dealt with them and what they made you think and do. The more you break down and intellectualize your emotions, the more you'll find that you gain control over them.


Journalling is a brilliant way to ‘mentally discuss’ your emotions with yourself, in relation to what happened during the day. Writing itself helps to ‘slow down’ your thoughts as you put pen to paper (or digital pen to tablet) in order to examine ‘what happened and what you thought in relation to what happened’ or ‘what you thought and then what happened’. The ability to pick out the threads of your thoughts will enable you to unravel the hot mess of your emotions and bring a much needed shift in perspective.


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Journal Questions for You

  • What thought patterns play on repeat like a scratched record in your mind? The first step to gaining control over negative thought patterns is to develop the ability to notice them.

  • How many emotions have you experienced today? Were you aware as you shifted from one emotion to another?

  • List 20 reasons you’d benefit from practicing mindfulness. How would your average day benefit?

  • What emotions would you like to gain more control of, and why?

 

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