Please read Part I here.
Inside this pandemic season, we can note that challenging emotions are part of the emotional response to everyday experience. Diverse emotions have been felt in every corner of the world. Challenging emotions can promote conflicts, sow thoughts of unrest, sink negotiations, and color misperceptions. Happiness, sadness, gratitude, anger, shame, guilt, and fear are just several of the universal experiences of human emotion.
We can change what we notice. By building a capacity to observe our emotions, we will not be overrun by them. As we launch into this summer season, it has been apparent that many are interacting with consistent themes of strong emotions with a fear of failure, financial instability, and even negative social evaluation from others about not being good enough. Distraction, fear, and a lack of curiosity about oneself and the world have been true barriers to experiencing more well-being and happiness.
Processing and reflecting on current emotions, both positive and negative, have been known to yield greater measures of happiness. In a broad concept called emodiversity, there is a growing body of research citing that awareness through having a rich, complex, and authentic emotional life will promote subjective well-being and the overall health of groups of individuals.
This pandemic season invited all of us to lean into uncertainty, embrace a fuller spectrum of emotions, and intentionally adapt to ever-changing circumstances with grit and present-tense meaning. Happiness is not the end itself or the final outcome. In seasons of unpredictability with raw emotions, we are invited into a methodology to hack happiness. Australian entrepreneur and businesswoman Penny Locaso describes this fulfillment, “Happiness is being able to ride the wave of every emotion that life throws at you, knowing that you can come out the other side just a little better than what you were before because you have the skills (focus, courage, curiosity), the resources (a positive mindset), and the support structure (a community) to make that happen.”
Detaching from feelings has harmful effects inside this unprecedented global climate. As a lifestyle practice, mindfulness invites us into being more attuned with our emotions and overcome an inner tendency to bypass them and give disregard to their signals. Bypassing our emotions without awareness can have deleterious effects on our own mental health and well-being as well as damaging our relationship with others. Here are a few forms of how we neglect to take heed and cultivate emotional awareness:
- Suppression: When we feel most threatened, our survival self tends to be most active. It causes us to hurry to our defense and respond to circumstances impulsively, reactively, carelessly, and counterproductively. Usually seen with many in survival mode, our prefrontal cortex (PFC) tends to progressively shut down. With a narrowed vision, we cannot see past the threat in sight. In many ways our reactivity replaces thoughtful deliberation. Problem-solving becomes amiss with multiple steps when our attention is mobilized to respond to the threat. Often we are trained to believe that strong emotions need to be suppressed. Whether unspoken, organizational, or societal – there may be rules against giving expression to strong emotions. Anger, stress, anxiety, depression, and fear are commonplace among other emotional responses inside these pandemic circumstances; moreover, bringing language to better describe the nuanced precision of these emotions and their impact will allow us to more critically interact with ourselves and the world around us.
- Escaping: It has already been well-noted that when people avoid expressing their emotions, this leads to lower well-being and more symptomatic concerns (i.e. headaches, elevated blood pressure, weight gain/loss). There is a cost to avoiding our feelings. Numbing activities are common and regular in experience related to this pandemic: watching TV excessively, drinking, overtly consuming social media, and checking news feeds can all be forms of avoidance, and many have agreed that they have spent time and effort avoiding their feelings with some or all of these activities.
- Impulsively acting on in it: In moments of emotional intensity, acting impulsively by blaming others for our more challenging emotions as frustration, anger, and sadness can be likened to suppression and escaping. Acting impulsively can be another form of avoidance when we it serves as a form of exchanging the difficult emotions and attaching someone else to the blame for our inner experience.
Mindfulness is a lifestyle practice that allows us to be brought into our emotions without letting these feelings take a toll and negatively affect all aspects of our life functioning. Mindfulness brings us closer into contact with our feelings and assists in dealing with challenging emotions in more productive ways. Feeling our emotional states in a conscious manner will empower us to deal with them through healthy deliberate decision-making. Here are several examples of how mindfulness practices can allow us to make space to invite our challenging emotions into newer and stronger experiences.
Feel it without self-judgment
Not allowing our feelings can require a paradigm shift. Understanding what we are experiencing internally means attentiveness. Ways that you think about your emotions matter. When a moment comes along where you experience a strong emotion, write it down. Use two or more words to describe this feeling. After deliberating, you might become surprised at how there are more depths to the surface layer of this emotion with what you are uncovering! You can go beyond the surface to the deeper layers by using this list. It will be important to note both the positive and negative emotions alike to build emotional literacy. Saying that you are excited about the new job at the storefront and are trusting of your friends is just as important for setting the intention for the relationship and being on the road to greater success down the line. Also deliberate over its emotional intensity. On a scale of 1-10, what is the depth of this emotion? How urgent is it, and how strong? Will this self-assessment make you choose a different set of words to describe the experience?
Our minds are masters at coming up with ways to blame others for our internal emotional states and also generate thoughts and explanations for why we are feeling the way we are in any given moment. We might place blame on a boss for the way we are feeling or construct negative and irrational reasons for why we are feeling the way we are. There are many personal narratives that we find ourselves being attached with, and mindfulness practices help to bring perspective but also disengage from the restraining beliefs of these personal narratives. Dropping the interpretation of the story, not the feeling, allows us to maintain curiosity and a willingness to learn about the situation as well as have emotional energy to navigate the feeling with actionable steps. Mindfulness practices position us to refocus on future possibilities rather than be held by past narratives.
Unveil instead of hide
Checking in with ourselves and with others will provide greater intimacy and connection. Having a mindful moment related to examining, “What am I feeling?” will provide this opportunity with the self and others. Mindfulness practices bring about understanding of how to interpret others’ behaviors and our own; it also produces a reflective state and creates awareness of these interpretations. Acknowledging feelings can be altogether validating and freeing for ourselves and others.
Mindfulness has tremendous benefits when practiced regularly, consistently, and over time despite distractions. Our minds will learn to rest in open awareness when employed in the art of slowing down and practicing an inner quiet. Over time, our minds will learn to remain grounded in the present moment instead of attaching to the next cloud space of thoughts that arrive. Emotional balance, decreased stress, greater agency in decision-making are part of these benefits with consistent mindfulness practice.