Negative emotions have the potential to limit our effectiveness. Frustration, disappointment, and fear can paralyze our performance, while resentment, guilt and anger can stifle relationships. When often learn to ignore, deny and mask these feelings. Sometimes we learn this so well, we lose the capability of experiencing them. When we suppress intense negative emotions over long periods of time, we become emotionally exhausted. Flatness settles over us like a veil, masking all feelings. No joy, no hope, no peace. Feeling negative feelings empowers us to more effectively feel positive emotions. Three strategies that can initiate this process include mindfulness, emotional intelligence and cognitive reframing.
Mindfulness is a willingness to observe – even that which is uncomfortable. “How do I feel right now?” is a simple start to the process. Am I Exhausted? Agitated? Furious? Apathetic? Mindfulness demands that we answer honestly- without judgement- no matter what the answer. Practicing mindfulness on emotions increases our ability to recognize our feelings. (the Mood meter app @ www.moodmeterapp.com can guide us to address this process daily)
Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a process that moves us beyond labeling the emotion and includes understanding and expressing emotions in a healthy manner. Emotions are human responses to stimuli – which may be real or imagined. Many intense negative feelings are actually the result of an experience that occurred in the past (triggered by what is currently occurring). The saying, “The only thing to fear is fear itself” is accurate, as it describes a flooding of physiologic responses that occur when the “fear” response is reactivated. For example, after an accident, argument or negative encounter of any sort, the amygdala portion of our brains store negative memories in order to quickly reactivates them in similar experiences. This fight or flight response is an evolutionary survival skill, but on a daily basis, an overactive amygdala turns a nonthreatening situation into a debilitating one. Understanding the stimuli that activated our emotions comes when we repetitively asking ourselves WHY we are feeling that way? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? (just like a two-year old) The root-cause of feelings can help explain and process what is often a normal human response. Emotional intelligence increases our ability to tolerate our feelings.
Cognitive Reframing is seeing an issue with a new lens. Viewing negative emotions as normal human physiologic responses, diminishes their power over us. Try saying “this is normal” the next time you feel: grief over the loss of something or someone- “this is normal”, fear of an upcoming test or a speaking engagement publicly- “this is normal”, or anxiety after a confrontation with a coworker or family member- “this is normal”. Reframing our thoughts diminishes the cycle of stress and permits us to normalize daily situations and feel our feelings. Cognitive reframing allows us to accept all of our feelings.
Mindfulness, emotional intelligence and cognitive reframing are tools everyone can use to overcome the paradox of negative emotions. Observing, understanding and embracing our broad spectrum of emotions allows us to fully experience our greatest gift – the gift of being human.