Managing your emotions when life gets you down...written from a Yogic and Counselling perspective
It’s definitely fair to say that life can be pretty hard work at times. One day you’re up and the next day you’re down (I’m sure that’s a quote from something!) but how do we manage all of these changing emotions? I’ve come to think that for most people, emotions are something we used to be able to accept quite easily when we were young. It’s just that we have lost touch with that sense of acceptance.
Think about a toddler or young child you know, do you notice how easily they can go from one (often quite extreme) emotion to another. Everything is felt strongly and very bodily too. Feelings are acted out rather than held onto and swift changes in mood can be seen.
Though it’s not a good idea to go around ‘acting out’ our emotions all of the time, the way we may have done when we were much younger, by the time we become adults there’s definitely a sense of shut down, loss of understanding or fear of deep and painful emotions for many adults. This sense of separation from a part of ourselves can be very unhealthy for mind and body, especially over a long period of time.
As a Yoga Instructor and Counsellor (and as a human being with my own emotions) I know that it can be hard to be ok with strong emotions even though we all realise that they are a fact of life. We have to find a way to feel, explore and let out our emotions so that they don’t become destructive to our health.
Western society has taught us to separate mind, body and emotions with each being treated differently and being accorded differing levels of importance. The mind/emotion health realms still carry a stigma that much body health does not.
These last years have thankfully seen a huge attempt to reduce this stigma as mental health awareness has been increased in all types of media and is much more common place conversation both in and outside of the home. Unfortunately, the struggle to feel ‘ok’ with not feeling ok is undeniably real and can be deeply isolating.
When it comes to the health of our mental and emotional bodies and the often long term suppression of feelings there are many factors to consider. If you’ve not considered your own relationship to your feelings before I’ve listed some questions below to help you begin to explore how you deal with your emotions when under times of stress:
What were you taught about emotions when you were younger?
What were the messages you received about appropriate behaviour?
Did you learn that all emotions are ok or that only some are allowed?
Did you see helpful ways of dealing with emotions modelled when you were growing up?
How accepting do you feel you are about your own ‘negative’ emotions
In what ways have you learned to ‘sit’ with your ‘negative’ emotions?
And how angry and forceful is your own inner critic?
The word ‘negative’ is a label that we put on our emotions; for example happiness is good but sadness is bad or anger can be valuable but feeling vulnerable is weak and unhelpful.
None of these emotions are good or bad!
None of them are right or wrong!
They just are!
The yoga world teaches us that we create a view of life based on these opposites of right and wrong & good and bad, in which we unknowlingly create our own suffering because we label ourselves and the world around us. We spend so much time and effort striving hard for the ‘right’ and ‘best’ that we feel like a failure when we don’t achieve it.
This kind of good/bad labelling is a playground for the inner critic! Not only can life be hard but when we fail to be good/strong/happy and positive we then internally berate ourselves further still. The inner critic can often be much worse than our immediate world.
So what can we do about this? There is no immediate quick fix cure, that’s for sure, but then you’ll already know that if you’re taking the time to read this blogpost!
From a counselling perspective...we can learn to be much more accepting of how we feel, we can learn to understand ourselves better so we can work out why we feel the way we do (this will have a current situational trigger and often a trigger that takes us back to some difficult emotional experience of our younger selves). In counselling it’s possible to spend time exploring and understanding these links so that we can consider what it is we need to help us feel better. And perhaps most of all, to offer some compassion to ourselves to help counter the angry critic and put it back in its bullying place!
From a yogic perspective (as with many other spiritual pursuits) we can learn to sit with our emotions and become the ‘witness’ of them, to see them as emotions that are happening to us - but are not ‘us’. They are simply things that we are experiencing. These emotions, like our thoughts and our bodily sensations, do not define who we are! For certainly if we were simply made up of every thought we’ve ever had and that’s all we were, then I think we’d be in a whole lot of trouble!
Instead, we can see that feelings, thoughts and senstations are at the same time constant within us but always subject to change. Their changing nature can actually work to benefit us since it shows how difficult emotions are inevitable sometimes but if we don’t hold too rigidly to the idea that these emotions are who we are then they will also go again. No emotion is constant, however it may seem it at times.
It’s also helpful to see that the idea of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ creates problems and perhaps remember how oftentimes, in the force of great pressure, the most wonderful transformations can occur. Everything is an ebb and flow in life. A sense of trust in something greater than ourselves, whatever that something is, can go a long way to inner peace.
And finally, yoga always teaches us to just be with our breath. To feel, breathe, allow, sit with our emotions and notice the subtleties without judgement or clinging. Learn to breathe effectively and to develop an ‘inner witness’ approach to emotional states - not one that distances you and detaches you from a healthy relationship with self and others but a sense of having stepped behind these feelings and simply notice, allow and be compassionate towards ourselves instead.
Of course, this brings us to ‘ahimsa’ the very first Yama (a yogic way of behaving to self and others) which was mentioned earlier when helping us deal with our inner critic. Ahimsa teaches us to be non-violent and non-harming, to develop sincere and deep compassion and to extend that compassion within as well as without. Why is compassion so important? Because life can be pretty damn hard at times and we are only human, after all.
Yoga Instructor, Counsellor and Founder of Yoga2Talk Therapy