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How to Be Mindful When Dealing with Negative Emotions

There was once a human and he/she never felt a difficult emotion, said no one ever.

We are all humans and as such, we feel.

A study conducted by Alan S. Cowen and Dacher Keltner, Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley describes 27 emotions that we feel as human beings:

  • Admiration
  • Adoration
  • Aesthetic Appreciation
  • Amusement
  • Anxiety
  • Awe
  • Awkwardness
  • Boredom
  • Calmness
  • Confusion
  • Craving
  • Disgust
  • Empathetic pain
  • Entrancement
  • Envy
  • Excitement
  • Fear
  • Horror
  • Interest
  • Joy
  • Nostalgia
  • Romance
  • Sadness
  • Satisfaction
  • Sexual desire
  • Sympathy
  • Triumph

We love basking in positive emotions, trying to re-create them again and again. It feels good to experience love, joy, excitement, awe, happiness, etc.

At the same time life is not always a fairy tale with a happy end. Sometimes we are challenged by difficult emotions such as fear and sadness. When we feel difficult emotions, we desire for things to be different. We often even try to escape from that particular feeling, reaching out for different types of distractions such as food, alcohol, the TV, work or another preferred way of escapism.

Disregarding or trying to escape and forget a difficult emotion doesn’t remove it from our experience. It remains there and it will rise up again, at some point, because it needs to be dealt with and processed internally.

So how can we be mindful when we going through such challenging periods of our life?

Mindfulness is a buzzword nowadays and I am pretty sure all of you have an idea of what is mindfulness. It is actually a very simple concept.

The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley defines mindfulness as “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” (The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley n.d.)

Psychology Today defines mindfulness as “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future.” (What Is Mindfulness? n.d.)

When we are mindful, we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them. We are fully present in the present moment, we are not rehearsing the past or day-dreaming about the future.

After working with clients for years, and of course while working with my emotions as I was and still am experiencing them, I developed the AHA technique, which helps in increasing our awareness around the emotions bubbling inside us, and the way we react after we feel certain way.

AHA stands for Aware, Honor and Action. The moment we become Aware of a certain emotion, we Honor it without trying to reject, suppress or change it, and we then create a mindful Action as a result of that awareness.

Here are the three simple and very powerful steps in my AHA technique:

  • Become AWARE of your emotion by asking yourself: “What am I feeling right now?”

Whenever we feel a difficult emotion, such as stress, anxiety, or other overwhelming feeling rises inside of us, it is important to stop, just look within and ask ourselves: What am I feeling right now? How can I be with this emotion? What is it showing to me? How can I fully experience what I am experiencing right now without wishing it to be different? How can I allow what they are I’m experiencing right now to be a portal to a deeper self-discovery and connection with myself? And once we ask all these questions, we can then become quiet, and listen, and listen, and the more we listen, the more we’ll be able to hear.

Sometimes we will be able to answer these questions straight away, and sometimes it will be a little bit more challenging because it might be something that we are not consciously aware of. At this moment it will be very important to remain curious and patient, to do our best to connect with ourselves, and after we do that, we also do a gentle inquiry as to what exactly is happening within.

Tuning in is a skill all humans possess. You become in tune with yourself when you decrease your thinking and increase your awareness. Focus your attention on the present moment. Let go of any worries about the past or future. Be aware of any thoughts and emotions that pop into your head. Rather than letting them take over your mind, just observe them. Don’t judge them or analyze them, just notice them and then let them float away like clouds.

Speaking of clouds, spending time in nature does increase self-awareness, so a walk in the woods could be a great way to tune in.

  • HONOR whatever you might be feeling without trying to escape from it or change it.

The way to do that is to first arrive in your body.

Allow yourself to fully experience your emotion. Allow it to flow through you like a wave. It might not be pleasant and pretty but if you suppress it, and you don’t honor it, it will remain inside you and it will rise again at one point or another.

In addition to that, you can also do your best to be fully present within yourself. Quite often mind and body are not synchronized at all. Your body goes to bed but your mind is still in the office. Your mind wants to finally write that book, but your body starts cleaning out the house. Your body is eating a salad and your mind is dreaming of steak.

All this is very exhausting. Splitting of mind and body is causing us stress and fatigue. When mind and body are synchronized, we are in the present. We are residing within ourselves.

When we come home within ourselves, we relax. We enter a state of absorption. We are right here right now and that feels powerful. At the same time, different insights start arising. You see your life more clearly. You perceive patterns and connections you had not noticed before. Clarity and understanding seem to arise from nowhere. Your mind starts expanding and your awareness increases even further.

After you become AWARE and HONOR the difficult emotion you are going through, allow yourself to come up with a mindful ACTION that will help you handle your emotion in the most resourceful way.

  • You can take a mindful pause and ask yourself: “What do I need right now?”

It might be more self-love and self-compassion. It might be peace and calmness. It might be some me time when you do some journaling in order to understand yourself better. You might decide to sweat out that difficult emotion in the gym, or you might decide to spend the night in, sipping a cup of tea while soaking in your bathtub.

When you’ve had the time to center, become aware and honor what you are feeling, you are proactively creating a resourceful response, rather than reacting and being on auto-pilot. Taking an action from a place of centerdness and inner connection will always be more in tune with your authenticity and with who you really are.

Ultimately, all emotions are like the changing weather, so allow yourself to move with the wind as it comes and goes, rest and enjoy it when it’s sunny and don’t resist the storms, because they can be great teachers too. So, friends, befriend your difficult emotions. They are a gateway to a deeper self-understanding, self-compassion and ultimately self-love.

The more we feel, the closer we get to ourselves, the more we get to know our true selves and the more we can maximize our full potential in life.

Additional resources:

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