Overwhelming emotions, such as anger, fear, sadness, worry, stress, and regret, can be debilitating. The more we feel, the fewer resources we seem to have to get back to our centered self. Our natural reaction is usually to try to push these feelings away. When we can’t, our anxiety increases even more. We might even be in the middle of the stressful situation, which is getting worse by the minute because we cannot manage the stress we currently have. So what can we do?
Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and breathing exercises, can help. When you are in the middle of it, try this simple breathing exercise:
1. When you inhale, allow yourself to feel the emotion you are trying to “get over”… but only for as long as the inhale takes.
2. When you exhale, imagine sending yourself unconditional love, compassion, joy, and peace… but only for as long as the exhale takes.
3. Repeat the above for each inhale and exhale.
Allowing yourself to notice your experience is central to mindfulness techniques. Surprisingly, trying to push the emotion away sometimes causes it to come back much stronger. Allowing yourself to feel the emotion in a controlled manner helps you process the emotion and frees up your other resources that were trying to suppress it. You might actually find that feeling this painful emotion in small doses feels good. Our pain wants to be acknowledged. It may be justified. It may actually teach us something or give us the energy to make difficult changes in our lives.
The exhales can feel like heaven when we are in the midst of painful emotions. We find that we are able to send ourselves the healing energy that we are craving, rather than needing this only from other people. Although the exercise includes sending yourself unconditional love, compassion, joy, and peace, sometimes one of these will resonate with what you are needing more than others. Feel free to focus on that in your exhales. This may teach you something about where the painful emotions are coming from.
The exhales may feel so good that you are tempted to stay on this step for inhales and exhales… but don’t! Give your pain its due on the inhale, and then come back to this step on the next exhale. You may find that those negative feelings are not as smothering as they seemed, even when they are still coming.
This quick technique can be a great way to quickly regain your cool in most situations. However, if you find yourself continuing to spiral out of control, feeling depressed, panicked, violent, etc., or if your overwhelming emotions seem to be more chronic than intermittent, I encourage you to seek help with a trained professional. Therapists and psychiatrists are trained in effective treatments for depression, anxiety, anger management, past trauma, etc. that cannot be self-administered. If you are interested in making an appointment to meet with me and discuss your particular path, I would be happy to talk with you.
Rose Rigole is a psychotherapist in private practice in Costa Mesa and Los Angeles, California, and is currently accepting new clients. She can be reached by telephone at (424) 571-2273, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via her website at http://www.counselingsocal.com.