by Aakanksha Gupta (Weloquent)
Have you ever wondered why you respond to tough situations by panicking, shutting down, or saying something you don't mean? Have you ever wished you could balance your emotions better? At times, I get so overwhelmed by my feelings that I struggle to make sense of them at all. This year has presented me with big challenges: moving to a different country, being far away from my friends, looking for a job during the pandemic, and so on. I haven’t always handled my anxiety well—I’ve avoided it, obsessed over it, and lashed out at loved ones unintentionally. Sometimes it takes me a lot of time and effort to stop feeling bothered about something difficult. I later find myself questioning why I wasn’t able to focus on "the calm amidst the storm." The answer is simple: I let my emotions get the better of me.
In the face of adversity, our most helpful skill is emotional maturity: the ability to understand and manage our emotions no matter our circumstances. Let me take some pressure off by reassuring you that this is a skill set we can continue expanding as we grow older. We are never mature enough to think that we’ve mastered the art of emotion management. Consider using the following strategies to work on your emotional maturity:-
Take a Step Back
It can be hard to respond effectively when our bodies are reacting to stress leaving us breathless and troubled. Pause for a few moments and ground yourself physically by taking deep breaths, having a sip of water, and touching a surface (read this list for more ideas). A change of scenery can also disrupt the distress—you could go to a different room, take a quick walk, or just go out onto the balcony. Distracting yourself also works wonders - read a book you like, watch a funny video, or give your best friend a call.
Identify Your Emotions
In the words of psychologist Dan Siegel, "Name it to tame it." Start by labeling your emotions using a few words at a time, e.g. anxious, frustrated, left out, etc. Being as clear as possible will help you know your struggles, and hence handle the situation with more ease. Next, prioritise these emotions by asking yourself the following questions:-
Which emotion is the strongest right now?
What is making me feel this way?
What do I want from this situation?
Is there anything immediate I can do to resolve the situation?
If yes, then what?
If resolution has to wait, then what can I do in the meantime?
Put Shame Aside
If you’ve ever wondered, "why am I like this?" you might be shaming yourself for feeling a certain way. Instead of judging our emotions, we must try to accept them for what they are without trying to immediately change them. Try to remind yourself that the emotions won't harm you and that accepting them doesn't mean that they'll never go away. A simple phrase that helps me is, "And that's okay.” For example: "I’m feeling really annoyed. And that's okay,” or “Right now I need to be alone. And that’s okay.”
Reframe the Situation
We tend to feel stuck when a situation isn’t going the way we’d like. We may think along the lines of, “This has to turn out the way I want and if it doesn’t, I just won’t be able to tolerate it.” Try replacing this thought with, “I would like it if xyz happens. If it doesn’t, I will find a way to manage the situation.” Remember that even though it may not feel like it initially, an uncomfortable situation does not have to be an unbearable one. By expanding your ability to sit in discomfort and handle intense emotions, you can avoid reacting in extreme and unhealthy ways. Below is an idea I found very helpful:
“To practice accepting emotions, try thinking of them as messengers. They’re not “good” or “bad.” They’re neutral. Maybe they bring up unpleasant feelings sometimes, but they’re still giving you important information that you can use.” — Healthline
It is natural to get things wrong sometimes! It is unrealistic to never be scared or uncomfortable, but it is realistic to act sensibly in spite of those emotions. With time and practice, you can become more emotionally mature and hence readier to handle difficulties. All the best!