Navigating Emotions

Emotions are a powerful and important part of the human experience. I like to think of emotions as messages that inform our experiences in the world. They tell us when danger is near, when something positive has happened in our lives, when we need connection, when we have taken on too many obligations, and so much more. Learning healthy ways of navigating and relating to our emotions is a really important piece of our well-being. 

Many of us are tempted to push away and deny our negative emotions (i.e. fear, shame, sadness, jealousy). Let's face it, it's really uncomfortable to feel them. Unfortunately, this approach is a recipe for depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behaviors. Instead, we must learn how to honor and move through our emotions. If we can learn to understand and respond to them, we will find ourselves feeling much more regulated.

So, how do we do that? Here are a few tips. 

1) Allow yourself to notice and feel your emotions when they come up. Sometimes our first clues are actually in our body (i.e. tension, pit in your stomach, lump in your throat, heart racing). 

2) Identify the emotion you're feeling. This will be obvious in some situations and in others it might take a little more digging. Sometimes one emotion masks another and it is the underlying emotion that really needs our attention. For example, anger is often a "secondary emotion" because we usually find that fear, hurt, or sadness is underneath it. When we address the fear, hurt, or sadness, the anger dissipates on it's own. 

3) Try not to judge your emotions. They aren’t right/wrong, good/bad. They just are. Instead, ask, "what is this emotion trying to tell me?"

4) Identify the situation that triggered this emotion. Did someone say something hurtful? Are you taking on too much at work? Is your partner neglecting you? Are you about to take a big risk? Have you lost someone or something important to you? 

5) Ask yourself if there is an unmet need related to this emotion. We all have needs for connection, autonomy, play, meaning, and physical well-being. 

6) Come up with a plan to get your needs met and take care of yourself. While no emotion is good or bad, it's how we respond to our emotions that has the potential to cause problems (i.e. outbursts, shutting down, substance use, etc). Take some time to check in with yourself on what you need, how you can go about getting that need met with the least amount of fall-out, and when would be the best time to do this. 

Do you need to take a day off or take some obligations off your plate? Do you need to talk through your feelings with someone? Do you need to address an unmet need with your partner? Do you need to have a conversation with someone about how their words or actions impacted you? Do you need to exercise or get out in nature? Do you need time for self-reflection, journaling, or meditation? Do you need to go for a drive and listen to your favorite music? Do you just need a night to watch your favorite sitcom and eat take out? 

Special note: If your situation involves another person, ask yourself if it is safe (physically and emotionally) to express your needs/feelings.

7) Remind yourself that emotions are temporary. Even if it's hard to believe right now, you won't always feel this way. It will pass. 


"You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf." -Jon Kabat-Zinn