How can we prevent crippling anxiety or depression? We need LOTS of practice welcoming in and feeling unpleasant emotions like sadness, fear, and anger. We need to lay out the red carpet for resentment, despair, and even hopelessness at times, because when we do, these emotions pass. If we open the door wide and set out the welcome mat, these emotions typically dissolve more quickly than we expect. We also don’t cling to these emotions – we feel them and let them go. Depression is that massive cloud of weighted bleh following you around. That cloud is made up of emotional buildup: thick, dense, burdensome emotions that have not been processed.
We forget that we can handle pain. In fact, we can cope with a lot of pain, often more than we expect to survive. Women engage in natural childbirth for hours on end and make it through. We survive break-ups, deaths, personal and societal tragedies, lost jobs, fever, and sickness. Through it all, we survive and usually gain self-respect in the process.
We breathe in-and-out and a new day comes. Sometimes the pain is so great all we can do is focus on just this one breath. Right here, right now. And then you know what happens? The next breath comes, and the next, and the next, and pretty soon we feel differently, and our thoughts change and shift. We welcome a new experience.
Us humans do a lot to get in the way of this process. We push away, avoid, ruminate, argue, distract, anything to not feel what is taking place in our body. (Remember, emotions are a physiological experience and happen in our physical body.) If my friend says something to me and I feel hurt, how do I process this?
- I could avoid feeling it by thinking about it over and over (ruminating)
- I could talk with numerous other friends about it to no end
- I pretend it didn’t happen
- I choose to ignore my friend hoping for an apology
- Fill in your favorite way to deal by not dealing here ________________.
Instead, if I want emotional freedom, I could meet HURT at the door laughing and invite him (or her) in. I could treat this guest, HURT, honorably. How would this look? I might do a little self-talk that goes something like this:
“Ugh, I feel kicked in the gut. Where do I feel that? How do I know I feel HURT? What in my body is telling me HURT is here? (Take some breaths and notice sensations in my body.) I feel like the center of my chest is sinking. I almost feel out of breath. (Take some more breaths while paying attention to these sensations in my body and any other feelings that arise.) I think I feel HURT. (Some more breaths while paying attention to sensations in my body. When my mind wanders, or I zone out, I ask myself, ‘Now what is happening in my body? What do I notice?’)”
After maybe a few minutes pass, I gently decide what is most effective for me to do next. Is it to drink a glass of water? Talk to my friend about what they said prompting me to feel hurt? Continue breathing into these feelings and sensations? Get to work and put this aside until later? The key here is that I calmly ask my Wisdom what is most effective, rather than ducking, hiding and getting rid of that emotion as soon as possible. Personally, I sometimes like to set a timer for three minutes. When I do, this means that I have committed to throwing myself into feeling into my body (paying attention to sensations) for three minutes and will gently evaluate what is next when that time is up.
Remember, HURT is a guest, and if we want emotional freedom, we treat each guest honorably. I pour HURT a cup of tea, sit down with him, ask how he’s doing, pay attention when he talks, and we have a visit together. When he’s ready, HURT will decide to go. I won’t rush him out or even turn my back as he leaves. I will thank him for coming, and gently open the door and watch him go, letting him know he is always welcome. I may even thank him for his visit (emotions are very informative). I feel at peace.
When we push away what is uncomfortable, we create stress and even more unpleasant emotional intensity. When we welcome in our emotions and treat them honorably, we may experience pain, discomfort, aching, and we also give ourselves the gift of peace.
As with anything, reading this article will not change your life. What will? PRACTICE, of course! The next time you are feeling a painful emotion and would like help welcoming it in, listen to this short, three-minute, guided meditation to help you along. [Insert meditation link here] In fact, you can use this recording as a daily practice if you’d like to regularly engage in a skill to mitigate emotional buildup. (If you’d like to practice for a little longer, listen to this 8-minute meditation at the end of my article, The Guest House .
LIFE IS TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!
Amanda Gale-Bando, Ph.D.