I am all about emotions. Acknowledging feelings, letting yourself feel. I wouldn’t be in the mental health business if I wasn’t.
But I have to start out by saying that our emotions can cloud our ability to think clearly, especially when we’re feeling overwhelmed by feelings like sadness, fear, and anger. Thinking that is clouded by emotions can, in turn, cause us to make emotional-fueled decisions that aren’t necessarily in our best interest, or in the best interest of whomever the decision might affect.
In other words, our feelings can get the best of us and lead us in a direction that we might later regret.
Your Emotions: Off to the Races!
I can usually guess when a client has stepped into this trap. The story begins with something like:
“I knew I should have thought things over, but I was just feeling so…”
“I was about to burst at the seams, so I went ahead and…”
“I knew I probably shouldn’t have said that, but at that moment…”
And the next step in the story? Words that damaged a relationship. A promise made that may need to be broken. A decision with unfortunate consequences.
It’s been my experience that living with a chronic condition can often leave you feeling emotionally raw. Bad days… treatment regimens… all that uncertainty… all of which can lead to some strong emotions. And those emotions can be overwhelming at a time when your ability to cope isn’t the strongest.
What about you? Are there times when it’s hard to get past how you feel? In other words, do you sometimes feel like your emotions are leading you around by the nose?
If your answer is yes, don’t be hard on yourself. You’re normal. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a choice, because you do. Here’s what you can do:
Take a pause. Move yourself out of the center of the action. Physically, mentally, or both. Step back. You can even say something like, “I need a moment.”
Breathe. That initial emotional rush can be overwhelming. Notice how you’re breathing. Little short breaths? Not breathing at all? Take a series of deep, calming breaths. In through your nose, out through your mouth.
Accept. Okay, so you’re having a lot of feelings. The worst way to cope with emotions is by pushing them down or trying to pretend they aren’t there. Your feelings are your feelings. Good feelings, feelings you aren’t so proud of. Give yourself permission to feel them all.
Talk to yourself. Ask yourself a series of questions: How am I feeling? What triggered all these feelings? What are all of these emotions making me want to do? And if I took that action, what would the consequences be? What you are doing here is engaging your rational mind to help you handle your feelings before they handle you. Watch how this process helps bring you back to yourself.
Remind yourself: Feelings may not represent reality. The feelings of the moment can make the world around you look pretty foggy. You may see things that aren’t real, like what someone else’s motives look like, or where a situation seems to be going. All the more reason to take a pause until the fog dissipates.
Decide not to decide. The best way to avoid saying or doing something you might later regret is to consciously tell yourself to hold off on taking action until your emotions are back in balance with your rational side. That may take a moment or two, or it may take a few days or longer. You’ll thank yourself later.
Practice with patience. Emotions are part of being human. Our way of coping with strong emotions is hardwired into us, based on years of practice. Some of us shut down, some of us wear our emotions on our sleeve. Learning how to cope with emotions in a healthier manner takes practice. And keep in mind, if you’re living with a chronic condition, you have that much more on your plate. So be patient with yourself.
So… emotions leading you around by the nose? You can experience the whole range of your emotions without letting your feelings lead you to actions you may later regret. Remember: You have a choice!