We all know just how uncomfortable it is to be caught up in difficult emotions -- anger, sadness, anxiety.
The good news? There are simple ways to lessen the intensity of difficult feelings and even turn them around into positive states, without denying or repressing them.
Here are three of my favorite simple, gentle tools for dealing with difficult emotions:
1. "It's Just a Feeling."
Recently, I was walking home at the end of a solitary Friday writing day, and realized I was heading into the weekend without any plans. I was hit with a wave of loneliness and a strong craving for connection.
My mind started to chatter with all kinds of unhelpful thoughts: "Why didn't I make plans earlier? What could I do to make last minute social plans and escape this feeling?"
Then, remarkably, thankfully, some other voice within said: "Tara, this is just a feeling. This loneliness, intense as it is right now, is just a feeling and it will pass." Suddenly, my problem was not so serious. Suddenly, I could relax.
I had read about that idea of "just a feeling" in Zen books before, but in this moment, it clicked. Since that time, I've used it again and again to loosen the grip of difficult emotions.
When we experience a difficult emotion, our habitual reaction is to take that feeling seriously. We naturally merge with it, submerge ourselves in it. We become possessed by the feeling.
If we step back just a little, if we become wise and compassionate observers, we can say, "this is just a feeling; it is not me, and it will pass." We can even watch it and get interested in how it functions. There we find freedom, release, choice. There we find sanity again. The storm turns to calm.
2. "I Surrender."
Often, when we are stuck in a difficult emotion, we are fighting a fight we aren't equipped for. We're trying to change reality, change other people or alter a situation that is in fact out of our hands. We are resisting what is.
There's an incredible power that comes from surrendering, from saying, "I give up" or "I can't fix this" or "the way I've been doing it isn't working." Surrendering isn't giving up on hope. It isn't giving up on wanting to change a bad situation. It's surrendering how you've been trying to change it. It's surrendering your control to something greater than you.
Surrendering releases the striving that is causing suffering. It opens us to see new options and possibilities.
So often, leaps forward -- whether new discoveries in science, new partnerships, new ideas or transformational turns in our individual lives --begin with surrender. They begin when we consciously say, I give up on my old way of doing things.
If you are willing to add to that giving up, a second sentiment of asking for help, you'll experience even more transformation. If you are able to say to some power greater than yourself -- spirit, love, nature, God, the Tao, whatever resonates for you -- the words, "help" or "show me another way" or "I put this into your hands" -- new things will start to happen. Your perception of the situation will change dramatically. New opportunities will reveal themselves. New ideas will arise in you. Things will shift.
3. "Hearts around the world are experiencing this emotion at this moment. Let me connect to them."
I recently deemed this "my new favorite way to deal with icky emotions."
I was sitting in my office at home, feeling disappointed about something that hadn't worked out the way I'd hoped it would.
Suddenly the thought arose: "Instead of thinking about your disappointment, Tara, think about everyone's disappointment, every human being that is now experiencing disappointment. That ache in your chest? Feel it as it exists in so many other chests around the world."
I brought into my heart all the people in the world feeling disappointed. I imagined the kids and the adults and the people in cities and the people in villages, people near and far, feeling the weight of disappointment.
Suddenly, my feeling of disappointment wasn't personal. It wasn't connected to my ego. Instead, it was connected to thousands of people around the world. I was led into thinking about what it meant to be a vulnerable human being, to have disappointment as part of that human experience.
All the resistance and rebellion against my own disappointment dissolved and there was simply a quiet sense of poignancy and compassion for the pain in the world. That healed my own heart.
"It's just a feeling."
"Hearts around the world are experiencing this emotion at this moment. Let me connect to them."
Try these tools. See which works for you in different kinds of situations.
The difficult part, of course, is to remember that these life rafts are available to you in the midst of the storm.
You may want to write them down somewhere, or keep this post in a handy place. You'll likely need some practice to get into the habit of using them -- go easy on yourself when you forget.
Tara Sophia Mohr is a coach, writer and the author of the Wise Living Blog. You can sign up to receive Tara's free goals guide, "Turning Your Goals Upside Down and Inside Out (To Get What You Really Want)" by clicking here.