Imagine this—you’re chugging along on your way to work when all of a sudden, a nervous breakdown hits you out of nowhere and you’re forced to pull over. Or pump the breaks because you’re wall to wall in traffic, and you nearly rear ended that car in front of you. Or fly into a road rage.
You can admit it, we’re all strangers here…
Either way, no bueno, right?
Emotions aren’t terribly bad by themselves. In fact, they’re what separates regular folk from the psychopaths, but when they stop us from leading our best (or at least halfway decent) lives, something ain’t right—and if you give them free reign to roam, you will never get anything done either. Not to mention nervous breakdowns could be just around the corner…
So let’s nip this in the bud now before it ever comes to that. Sound good?
Alright, so first things first,
1. Stop and take stock of your surroundings
AKA pump the breaks.
Stop whatever you’re doing right now and take a deep breath. I don’t care if you’re in the middle of performing a life saving surgery or singing in the shower, drop it like it’s hot and breathe.
Are you breathing?
Duh. But you know what I mean.
Focus on that breath and nothing else.
Some people say you should mentally say “breathe in, breathe out” while others tell you to count to ten as you breathe. That’s totally up to you. Whatever helps you centre yourself.
2. Identify the emotion
AKA read the traffic lights.
Okay, now that you’re in a calmer head space, it’s time to identify the emotion or emotions that are causing you grief. To do that, you have to ignore your mind’s chatter as well as its tendency to self-soothe (it does that by rejecting the negative emotions you’re feeling).
Don’t feel too bad—it’s just the brain’s way of preserving your ego. And pain. Your brain also doesn’t like pain. But that means you have to feel whatever awful feeling you’re feeling (ain’t that a mouthful!) instead of fighting it, and that can get really uncomfortable.
Don’t skip this part or it’ll come back to bite you in the ass.
Ready to move on? Great!
3. Now it’s time to shift gears
AKA the light just turned green and you have to figure out whether to go ahead on this road or take the next exit.
So you’ve felt your awful feelings in their entirety and you’re not sure what to do with them. Do you let them take over until your whole day is ruined? Or do you do away with them completely and pretend you’re now a robot?
Well, this is where your rational side comes in. Like a GPS or Google Maps, there’s a way to make sure you’re taking the best route to your destination.
Ask yourself the following question:
Can you channel these feelings into something constructive?
What do I mean by constructive, you ask? Let me elaborate by asking you a few more questions:
- Can you do something positive with these feelings?
Maybe you’re inspired to protest something unjust, or you want to volunteer your time or resources to a cause because you see yourself affecting change (and hey, small change is still change), or you just want to do something that helps you reach your goals. In which case, go you! Keep on keeping on.
- Do you have an outlet for these feelings?
Helpful stuff like painting or writing or therapy (or interpretive dance), not destructive stuff like drinking or binge eating or drugs. Etc…
- Will these feelings actually change anything?
This is more a question of stuff you can control versus stuff you can’t, as in: will assholes finally disappear off the face of this earth and take their horrible opinions with them? Not likely. Will the world’s biggest polluters finally do something about climate change? Not if it impacts their bottom line. Will racism finally go away? Sure, in a perfect world… but this isn’t a perfect world.
(I’m not saying you shouldn’t do your bit to end racism by the way, it’s just that billions of people live in this world and there’s no way all of them are going to agree with you.) Anyway,
If the answer is yes, then great! Go do that thing—it’s like cheap therapy. Go ahead on Constructive Boulevard.
If the answer is no, then there’s no point in keeping them around, is there? Discard them immediately—they’re not serving you anyway. Take the next exit.
Another question to ask yourself:
How are these emotions serving you?
Now I don’t know about you, but for me personally, I tend to waste my entire day (weeks even) when these emotions take over. It’s horrible. I stew about shit I can’t control and react to crap happening thousands of kilometres away knowing there’s absolutely nothing I can do, instead of doing stuff that can actually make a difference in my own life (and possibly others, like writing this blog).
Obviously, these emotions aren’t serving me at all. Or they’re serving me in a way that isn’t helpful whatsoever.
If that’s the case with you as well, it’s probably best to just let them go. I mean, if they’re not moving you towards meaningful action and they won’t change anything either, why keep them around? Just swipe left and ignore (easier said than done, I know). Don’t worry, you’re still a stand up human being. Promise.
4. Repeat as needed
AKA you didn’t think the streets would make it easy for you, did you?
Of course, you’re not going to magically cure yourself overnight. Life isn’t a bed of roses, shit happens, and we’re only human, so naturally there’ll be plenty more times we succumb to our emotions in the future.
The good news is you now have a system in place so your brain doesn’t get the better of you, and the more you practice these simple (but not necessarily easy) steps, the more you’ll refine your emotional processing skills.
Even better, I have a simplified graphic you can print whenever you need reminding. Just right click and save, and you’re good to go!
With bad metaphors and terrible puns,
Your friend in the trenches, the depressed duck
PS: This article explains everything much better than I ever could. Give it a read!
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