By Dr. Scott Symington
Emotional pain is built into the fabric of life. It shows up in multiple forms: anxiety, loneliness, feeling rejected, overwhelmed by the stresses of life and the list goes on. In the midst of these challenging experiences, we naturally look for ways to change the way we’re feeling—to alleviate the pain.
If we don’t have healthy ways of coping with emotional distress, we’re susceptible to relying on things like food, alcohol, shopping and Internet surfing to get the soothing and relief we seek.
To protect your wellbeing, it’s important to be equipped with tools and a game plan to address the challenging emotional experiences that show up in life.
Here are 6 steps to diffusing intense emotional symptoms:
Step 1 Take a deep breath, relax your muscles, and feel your feet on the ground.
Step 2 Remind yourself that thoughts and feelings come and go like a weather pattern passing through: I won’t always feel this way.
Step 3 Instead of fighting what you’re feeling, move into emotional acceptance, allowing the painful feeling to breathe. Say to yourself, I can live with this feeling right now.
Step 4 Describe out-loud or on paper what you’re feeling and the thoughts you’re having, almost as if you were taking on the role of an impartial commentator. Label the emotions and describe where and how you feel them in your body.
Step 5 Engage in a five-minute grounding exercise. First, listen to all the sounds in your environment intently for 1 to 2 minutes. Then pick out a visual anchor in your environment, something pleasing to the eye, such as a painting or picture, and study it visually for a couple of minutes. Next notice how your body feels on the cushion or chair or run your hand under warm water noticing the sensations (1 to 2 minutes). Lastly, grab a spice or something that has a pleasing aroma and engage your olfactory sense. Study the smell for a minute or so. This process of grounding is highly effective in both bringing awareness into the present moment, which is incompatible with internal spinning, and decreasing emotional intensity.
Step 6: Engage in meaningful action. Instead of turning inward and focusing on how you’re feeling, place your attention and concern on someone else. Engage in an act of kindness or if you pray, pray for someone you know is struggling. Take some action that reflects the best part of who you are.
Next time you find yourself emotionally overwhelmed or in a painful feeling state, implement the 6 steps you just reviewed. Especially with time and practice, you will notice that this approach reduces the power and presence of emotional pain in your life. You can’t always avoid the emotional challenges that come your way but you can develop a set of responses that protect your wellbeing and keep you fully engaged and present with life. Give it a try!
Dr. Scott Symington is the author of Freedom from Anxious Thoughts and Feelings: A Two-Step Mindfulness Approach for Moving Beyond Fear and Worry. He is a licensed clinical psychologist dedicated to helping adults overcome worry and anxiety, negative moods, addictive behaviors, and other conditions stealing people’s joy and freedom. For more information, please visit, www.drsymington.com and connect with him on Twitter, @drsymington.