Have you been finding that you cry at the drop of a hat? Get angry unnecessarily? Maybe you just feel nervous all the time. Whatever you may be feeling, you should begin by understanding that experiencing emotions is a normal part of human living. There is nothing inherently “wrong” with any emotion. You do not have to eliminate or ignore your feelings to handle them.emotionally stronger is much like building physical strength. Begin slowly, be consistent, build endurance, and keep it up.
Stop what you’re doing and re-focus. In the heat of an emotional moment, it can be easy to get swept up by what you’re feeling. If the emotion is positive, it can feel great, but if it is a feeling of sadness or anxiety, it can quickly spiral out of control. Take a break from whatever is going on and focus on your body’s five senses. This will help remind you of the present, and can help anxiety or anger from storming out of control.
- Try taking stock of your body’s reactions, but don’t judge them. For example, if you’re feeling anxious all of a sudden, think about what your body is feeling. “My skin feels hot. My heart is beating really fast. I am breathing shallowly. My hands feel shaky.” Don’t focus on these feelings. Just notice them and then let them pass.
- Refocusing on your present moment may also help reduce “automatic reactivity.” Your brain forms habits of reacting to stimuli, including emotional experiences. The brain instantly activates these patterns whenever that stimulus, such as anxiety or anger, occurs. Shifting your focus back to your present sensory experience breaks that circuit in your brain. If you practice this shifting consistently, it will become a new “habit” for your brain.
- “Self-observation,” the practice of paying attention to your own mind’s awareness and experience, can help you tease out the multiple things that may be happening within a single experience. For example, many people are unaware that “awareness” actually consists of many information paths. Often, we experience an emotional reaction as a jumble of feelings and sensory experiences that can feel overwhelming. Slowing down and refocusing on some experience in the present, such as what you’re seeing, hearing, and smelling, can help you restructure your brain’s old habits and learn to see these different “information streams.
Breathe. When your body experiences an intense emotion, it can react with a “stress response.” This “fight or flight” feeling happens when your sympathetic nervous system is activated by hormones like adrenaline. Your heart rate skyrockets, your breathing gets faster and shallower, and your muscles feel tight and tense.Breathing deeply can help relax you and help you return to “normal.
- Breathe from your abdomen, not your chest. You should feel the lower part of your belly expand when you inhale and fall as you exhale.
- To help you, place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Stand upright, lie flat, or sit straight to keep your chest open. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Feel your lungs and abdomen expand as you breathe in. Then, exhale through your nose or mouth. Aim for 6-10 deep breaths per minute.
- Focus on taking slow, deep breaths. This will provide oxygen to your body (and help distract you from your current emotional state).
Smile. It may seem cheesy at first, but research has showed that the act of smiling can actually make you feel more positive.
- Smiling can also decrease stress. Try to smile using all your facial muscles, not just the ones around your mouth. Smiles that spread across your face and up to your eyes feel more natural, which increases your body’s feeling of positivity.
- Taking five deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose, hold the air in your body for a moment, and then out through your mouth. Focusing on your breath will help you gather yourself and calm your nerves.
- Counting to 10. If something stressful happens, give yourself 10 seconds to gather yourself. To extend the length of time, count ‘one Mississippi, two Mississippi, ….etc.’
- Walking away from the situation. Doing this does not mean you will not handle the situation–it simply allows you to get away, breathe, and consider the options. If you are dealing with a person who is stressing you out, tell him or her that you need a moment to collect your thoughts and that you are going for a walk.
- For example, consider that you are on a diet. You go out for lunch with a friend, and you end up having a piece of cake for dessert. An all-or-nothing response would see this as a failure, and could lead to harsh judgments of yourself: “I totally blew my diet with this cake. I knew I couldn’t handle this new plan. I guess I should just eat anything I want.”
- Challenge all-or-nothing thinking by treating yourself compassionately. Would you harshly judge a friend for eating a slice of cake? Unlikely. So why would you do that to yourself? Avoid looking success as either/or, where everything has to go perfectly to achieve success. Try looking at success as and, an ongoing process of growth and change: “I ate that piece of cake, which won’t help me with my diet goals, and this isn’t a catastrophe. I’ll eat a healthy dinner to get myself back on track.”