Managing Your Feelings
We have had plenty of opportunities through the past few months to learn more about managing “or “not managing” our feelings. With our time being structured differently, for months on end, we may have found ourselves at home with nothing to do, something quite unlike our “old normal” behavior. Sometimes people keep themselves busy so that they don’t feel bored. But you may have found, with your additional time at home and no place to go, it can also be that being busy keeps our feelings at bay. With this “still” time, we may have found feelings coming up that were uncomfortable.
Having a plan for how to manage feelings can be helpful. There are several ways to manage feelings. We can avoid, distract or be present. Each of these choices could have a place for helping you through. Being aware and consciously making the choice is a step towards healthy management of your feelings.
Many people unconsciously, or even consciously, choose avoidance. Avoiding your emotions may push you to use unhealthy coping skills, such as increased drinking, eating, sleeping, binge watching TV, scrolling endlessly on your phone, or playing video games nonstop. Avoidance behaviors numb you out. A step here is to first acknowledge you are, in fact, avoiding those feelings that are coming up. If you have a long-standing pattern of avoidance, you may decide it is time to find another way to deal with the feelings. You may need additional support for this. If you make a conscious choice to avoid at times, then limit the amount of avoiding you are going to do. For instance, one night you decide to have an extra drink, or you decide to binge watch Netflix for the day, etc. Be aware of the avoidance behavior and make a conscious decision to come back to the emotions you might be avoiding. If you aren’t able to do this, you may be stuck in some maladaptive coping mechanisms which will take a conscious decision to work through.
Another way to handle our uncomfortable emotions is to distract. Distraction is something we probably all do at some time or other. Identifying the choice to distract is different than just using distraction to maintain a distance from the feeling. When we have intolerable or uncomfortable feelings, we can use distraction as a way to lessen the intensity until we feel we can come back to the feelings. Distracting activities can include focusing on a task you want to get done (a lot of people clean or do a big project), watching a movie, doing puzzles, or reading. Other ways to distract can be to focus on others and do something that will help another person. It can also be helpful to compare how you are feeling now to a time when you felt worse. Or you can think about comparing yourself to those less fortunate. It isn’t to minimize the feelings, but rather to keep things in perspective at the moment. Eventually, with distraction, you still choose to come back to the feelings
when you are ready.
Being present would mean that you become the observer of the feelings. You aren’t your feelings; you are merely having the feeling. As the observer, you watch the feelings, you identify the feelings that come up, and you label them such as sad, angry, lonely. With that you just be curious and nonjudgmental about the feelings. They are not good or bad, right or wrong. They are just what is coming up in you right now. I like to imagine the feeling as a wave that comes and goes.
Emotions last about 90 seconds if we don’t put sticky thoughts with them. Sticky thoughts mean we think the thoughts over and over again that bring up the feelings. But if we just allow the emotions to come and go, they can be managed. You just allow them. This is a mindfulness exercise and can be very beneficial in working your way through
Bottom line, we need to become aware of what patterns we are using in handling uncomfortable feelings. Making a choice in how we manage these feelings will
impact our emotional well-being. We can avoid the emotion for a period of time (setting limits on this avoidance) or continue to avoid without being conscious of that choice which ultimately will not be helpful to our mental well-being. We can be aware of the emotion and make a choice to distract from the feelings until they are more tolerable or we can be present and aware of the feelings, observing them, acknowledging and labeling the feelings and noticing the wave of the feeling as it comes and goes.
At the end of the day, when we can acknowledge and label the feelings, we don’t have to carry them, but can move into our day with the ability to be present and feel empowered to manage our feelings. Acknowledge them and ride the wave as they come up and then dissipate.Tags: avoiding feelings, Choices in how to manage feelings, COVID and Emotions, distracting from feelings
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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