One word we’ve been hearing a lot lately is “unprecedented”: unprecedented pandemic, unprecedented protests, unprecedented unemployment rate, etc. As we pass through unusual yet extraordinary times, our emotions are starting to reflect the chaos around us.
The shaky state of our world may be causing you to have conflictual emotions, especially if you’re a sensitive person: you may feel frustrated about your finances, impatient to get back to work, outraged over police brutality, or just plain bored of this whole situation. Even in such instances, it’s imperative not to let your emotions get out of hand. In order to remain in control of your circumstances, you need to remain in control of what you feel. No matter what your mindset may be in this moment, you can mitigate your emotions by taking these four steps:
1. Recognize that no emotion is wrong. It takes time to adjust to a new reality because the human brain likes to follow predictable patterns; it does not appreciate change. Our regular activities have been put on pause and we’ve been taken out of our comfort zones quite suddenly. Such disruptions are guaranteed to cause a wide range of emotions, including ones you may not expect or enjoy. However, you must accept how you’re feeling at any given moment because your emotions are a part of you; they come from you and no one else. Some sentiments like regret and guilt are especially oppressive; they weigh down on your conscience and make you falsely believe that what you’re feeling is wrong when in reality, no emotion is wrong. Recognizing that all emotions are normal will help you return to a positive state of mind more quickly. The key is to allow your feelings to come and go like visitors: welcome them, get to know them, then show them the door. You shouldn’t dwell on negative emotions or you risk getting stuck in them. It’s important to keep your feelings flowing constantly so that you don’t become emotionally stagnant.
2. Transform what you feel. Human beings are unique in that we have an incredible ability to transmute our emotions, to take a feeling and change it into a more productive and enlightening one. So denial can evolve into acceptance. Hate can be shifted into love. Disinterest can be transformed into motivation. Unease can be converted into faith. If you’re experiencing negative emotions due to the pandemic or other factors, you can choose to examine your emotions and gently transition out of them.
The solution might be simply to apply logic. Reasoning through your feelings can help you differentiate between rational and irrational emotions and dissociate yourself from unhealthy ones like fear, worry, and anger. For example, it’s rational to feel disappointed for being fired from your job but irrational to feel disappointed in yourself if it wasn’t your fault. Remember that harboring such emotions hurts no one but you, and that it’s always in your best interests to release feelings that don’t contribute to your mental, emotional, and physical growth.
3. Balance your ego and higher self. The human ego serves a critical role in protecting us, but it can also throw our emotions out of harmony. That’s because the ego disregards the “we” and emphasizes the “me.” If left unchecked, it can easily push aside empathy to spotlight personal ambitions, which can spark emotions like intolerance and selfishness. To keep your ego and higher self in careful balance, I encourage you to practice self-care while also caring for others. This means tending to your own needs and desires as well as showing compassion for the world around you.
If there’s one long-forgotten lesson that this crisis is teaching us, it’s that our emotional wellbeing can be improved by acknowledging the common threads that run among us all. It’s a well-known fact that when you do something good for others, you encourage emotions that make you feel good. Being of service produces a neurochemical sense of reward in the brain: it reduces stress, elevates mood, and increases self-esteem. So for every loving action you perform for yourself, perform a similar action for someone else. If you bought yourself a new pair of shoes, consider donating a few old pairs that you no longer wear. Or, if you take care of your pet, make a donation to a shelter so that another animal can be taken care of, too. Do all that you do with awareness and empathy in mind. It is such small but thoughtful actions that bring more joy not only into your personal world, but into our collective world.
4. Take actions that encourage healthy emotions. The right actions are tantamount to positive emotions. I recommend journaling because it’s a great way to release intense emotions and become more aware of the role your feelings play in your thought process. Write down everything you feel in a notebook: capture your annoyance, loneliness, or desperation without censoring yourself. Think of exercise as a kind of catharsis, an emotional purge. Then, close the book. Try to meditate or exercise to lighten your mood, and revisit your journal entry the next morning. What do you notice? Is the page full of statements that reflect anxiety or uncertainty? Did you write things like, “This isn’t fair to me,” “I’m not good enough,” or “Nobody understands me?” As you read over your entries, you’ll notice if your words were driven by healthy or unhealthy emotions. You’ll also realize how your feelings may be making you reach harmful conclusions.
Counteract adverse emotions by distracting yourself and doing something you genuinely enjoy, like talking to an old friend, starting a new project, redecorating your home, or discovering a skill you never knew you had. The emotions you choose to invite and engage determine how resilient and ingenious you can become. So when you experience destructive emotions, choose to create.
Our emotions fill our world with color, but in times like these, it’s important to keep track of what and how we feel. Practice my steps to restabilize your emotions and rediscover peace of mind.
To healthy emotions,
Dr. Carmen Harra