Dealing with difficult emotions is a challenge that we all have to face during our lives. But that doesn't mean it's easy to do. It can often feel like our emotions are out of our control as we respond to the situations and people in our lives. However, learning how to manage and deal with emotions, even the difficult ones like anger, sadness, jealousy, fear, and loneliness, is possible.
Learning how to be proactive with your emotions, instead of feeling like you're constantly responding to them, can help you step into feeling more in control of yourself and your life. Here are some tips that can help you learn how to recognize and deal with difficult emotions.
1. Learn to recognize and name your emotions
It's not always easy to know exactly what we're feeling. Still, it's essential that we learn how to so we can be emotionally healthy. If we try to suppress our emotions, they don't just go away. Instead, they continue to fester and grow. Even if you feel that you have it under control, it may resurface in the future at a time you don't want it to.
In addition, a study found that suppressing emotions can cause people to be more agitated and aggressive. You likely have experienced this yourself in everyday life. For example, if you're feeling really stressed about something that happened at work, you may find that you have less patience with your children when you get home. You may find that you snap at them for small things that normally wouldn't bother you.
This is why it's important to learn how to recognize your emotions and acknowledge them. You've probably heard that admitting you have a problem is the first step toward overcoming it; the same is true with your emotions. If you don't acknowledge what your emotions are, you won't be able to learn how to address and manage them, especially in a healthy way.
2. Learn to identify your primary emotions
Many people are unaware that there are primary and secondary emotions. Primary emotions are what we experience because of events in that occur in our lives. We generally experience these emotions at the same time as the event or closely after.
Secondary emotions, on the other hand, are emotions we experience as a result of other emotions. Sometimes we use secondary emotions to cover up our primary emotions. For example, we may be scared but don't want others to know we're vulnerable, so we act angry instead.
You can use the following questions to help identify what the primary emotions are that you are feeling:
What am I feeling at this moment?
Where is that feeling coming from?
When did I start to feel this way?
Is there something deeper that is causing me to feel this way?
As you answer the questions for yourself, it can lead you past the secondary emotion so you can discover if there is anything underneath it.
3. Accept your emotions
When we experience emotions that we don't want, it's tempting to try to resist them. This can be either fighting against them or trying to ignore them and push them away. However, as mentioned above, this can lead to additional problems. Instead, we need to learn how to accept the emotions we're experiencing.
It's helpful to learn not to judge your emotions or yourself for feeling the way you do. Emotions themselves aren't good or bad, even though some of them are more difficult to feel. Emotional acceptance means learning how to feel your feelings without judging them in the process.
It can be helpful to set aside specific times to connect with your feelings. This can be through meditation or simply choosing to ask yourself the questions above on a regular basis while giving yourself time to reflect on your answers. While going through this process, you may discover emotions you wouldn't have realized you were feeling if you hadn't taken this time. Then, you can identify if there are any steps you need to take as a result.
4. Learn to identify your avoidance behaviors
We all have activities or behaviors that we lean toward when dealing with difficult emotions. However, not all of these behaviors are good or helpful. There are some activities that we may think are helping us, but they are really only distracting us from dealing with our true feelings. Sometimes these activities are referred to as avoidance behaviors or escape activities.
Examples of avoidance behaviors include things like:
You may know that you're doing these things because of the difficult emotions you're experiencing, but that's not always true. This is why it's important to learn what your avoidance behaviors are so you can begin to catch yourself when you're doing them.
These activities can be a red flag for you that there are difficult feelings you may be trying to avoid. If you catch yourself engaging in your escape behaviors, you can intentionally take steps to fully acknowledge your emotions.
5. Learn new ways to express your feelings
It can be helpful to find new ways to express your emotions or to release the emotional energy you're feeling. Here are some ideas that you can try:
If you struggle with thinking through your feelings, it may help you to try journaling. Some people find it easier to process their emotions as they write them. You may find as you're writing that one thought leads to another and you're able to reach conclusions that you may not have reached by simply trying to think through your feelings.
It can also be helpful to see your thoughts and feelings on paper (or on the screen.) The simple act of writing your emotions and feelings may help you to get them out instead of suppressing them. In addition, you may be able to see more clearly what steps you can take in life.
Art can be a helpful way to discover and express your emotions. You can choose any art form that feels the best to you and allows you to get in touch with your feelings.
For example, you can paint a picture while choosing colors and brush strokes that reflect your mood and emotions. Or, you can create pottery and allow yourself to pour your emotions into the clay as you shape it. On the show Forged in Fire, multiple contestants have shared how forging helps them get their anger out in a healthy way. But you may enjoy something as easy as coloring.
Look for what works for you. Tapping into your creativity can help you release your emotions healthily and then continue to move forward.
Your emotions have energy, and when you try to suppress them, that energy stays stored in your body. This stored energy can lead to physical symptoms like stomach aches, headaches, chronic pain, and more. When you move, you're able to release this energy which can alleviate some of your physical and emotional symptoms.
Find a way to get moving that feels the best for you. This could be through dancing, yoga, cardio, boxing, or running. You may also find that certain stretches or yoga poses help to release your stored emotions.
6. Identify what you can change
Sometimes when our emotions feel out of control or difficult to manage, there are things we can change that can help. This could be things like spending less time with certain people, learning how to set healthy boundaries, or changing your environment to be more healthy. In addition, it could be changing your sleep patterns or making healthier food choices. There are many things changes you can make to help manage your emotions better.
To see what changes could help you personally, it may help you to spend time getting to the root of where your difficult emotion is coming from. Doing so can help you identify the areas where changes may be necessary to help you feel your best.
How a therapist can help with difficult emotions
There are many different reasons why you may struggle to deal with and manage your emotions. This can be from past trauma, mental health disorders, or other challenges you're facing. It can even be a learned behavior if you weren't encouraged to show your emotions in your childhood.
If you struggle to know what you're feeling or how to properly communicate it, working with a counselor or therapist may help. While you can do things on your own to better manage difficult emotions, sometimes, we all need a little help. A therapist can help create a validating space for you to explore your feelings and where they are coming from. As you gain awareness of your emotions, a therapist can also help you learn how to cope with them in a healthy way.
If you are interested in working with a therapist in Stillwater, MN, contact The NEST Clinic today to be matched with a therapist that is right for you.