Whether you’re feeling sad, angry, anxious, disappointed, or helpless... How you respond to difficult feelings makes all the difference.
I’d always thought that these 2 responses were the opposite of what you should do. In fact, they seem so counterintuitive that I stayed as far away from them as possible!
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Without realising it, my response was increasing my own pain, rather than easing it.
Now, these 2 strategies are the first thing I do whenever I’m struggling, and I’m able to cope a lot more easily.
Here are 2 emotionally intelligent (though counterintuitive) ways to respond to difficult feelings:
1. Acknowledge what you’re feeling by giving it a name
I always thought that if a difficult feeling came up, it would be best if I just kept my focus elsewhere. In the back of my mind, I felt that I knew how I was feeling, so surely there was no need to properly acknowledge it? It also seemed that if I turned towards that feeling, it would become overwhelming. That was scary. Why on earth would I want to unbox something I couldn’t handle? But here’s the thing: emotions are messages that need to be acknowledged. Multiple studies show that just saying, “I feel….” and then labelling however the feeling reduces brain activity in emotional centres. One study even found that simply acknowledging one’s fear of spiders led to participants being less afraid of spiders in future. Pretty amazing, right?! After I admit how I’m feeling to myself, I’m always surprised by how relieved I feel. It’s like my brain goes, “Ok! She got the message. I can stop shouting now,” and it turns the emotional volume down a little bit. So the next time you’re struggling, try naming what you’re feeling. Then watch what happens.
2. Accept how you're feeling
Most of us will agree that feeling difficult feelings is normal, but they’re not exactly comfortable.
If you’re feeling anxious, that anxiety can make you want to crawl out of your skin.
It's natural to want to squash that hurt, or numb that anger.
But resisting difficult feelings actually amplifies them.
When we tell ourselves that we don’t want to feel a certain way, or that we shouldn’t be feeling that way, we’re essentially labelling that feeling as “bad”.
Now, not only do we have the discomfort of the first feeling to carry, but we also have the added suffering that comes from rejecting that feeling.
We feel anxious, and then also worried about the impact of that anxiety.
We feel sad for what we’ve lost, as well as guilty about feeling sad because… shouldn’t we be grateful we had that experience at all?
This anchors us more deeply in the feeling, rather than freeing us from it.
Instead, by accepting that you feel the way you do, you have less to carry.
I feel anxious, and that’s okay.
I feel sad, and that’s okay.
The next time you’re struggling, try to let it be. Try not to judge the experience or to push it away, and take note of whether it dissolves more quickly.
What do you think? Are you going to try out these 2 counterintuitive ways of responding to difficult feelings? Let me know in the comments.