Oftentimes when clients attend a psychologist or counsellor, one of their goals in therapy
is to better manage uncomfortable emotions. Following on from the last blog post, there are various ways of managing emotions. Some are not useful, yet are often used to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions. So, what are some more effective ways of dealing with uncomfortable emotions? As a psychologist, I find that my clients tend to benefit from the following guidance. The strategies outlined below are based on key psychological principles.
• Experience emotions like a wave
When we experience an emotion, the intensity with which we feel it will increase until it reaches a peak. After peaking, it will start to decrease. Oftentimes, the idea of distracting yourself from an uncomfortable emotion can seem an attractive option. However, not letting yourself experience emotions can cause problems. Therefore, instead of trying to block the emotion or distract yourself, I recommend that you let yourself experience it. When I say ‘experience’ I mean notice the emotion in your body – Where do you feel it? What sensations is it comprised of?
Remind yourself that all emotions are time-limited; they will pass. You are not your emotion, and cannot become your emotion (e.g. you are not sad, you are feeling sad). You merely feel emotions, both comfortable and uncomfortable, and doing so makes you human.
• Monitor and challenge your thoughts
The thoughts we have are central to the emotions we experience. If we engage in an unhelpful style of thinking, the intensity of our emotions can become overwhelming. Thoughts can seem automatic. However, unlike emotions, we have control over our thoughts. Heightening your awareness of your thoughts allows you to 1) avoid unhelpful ones, and 2) challenge those that are unhelpful.
A key strategy in avoiding unhelpful thoughts involves encouraging yourself to notice your environment without interpreting/ judging it. When you find yourself interpreting/concluding about something, look for evidence to support your conclusions - what sometimes seems factual is merely a belief/opinion or interpretation.
A psychologist can assist you in developing a better understanding of any potential problematic thought patterns you may tend to engage in. Sometimes we are so familiar with our particular style of thinking, we need someone to highlight where we are going wrong. A psychologist is trained to do this.