Author: Diana Gordon, Psy.D
In our previous posts on Mindfulness (Part 1 and Part 2), we introduced 6 skills that you can use to become more mindful at any time of day, no matter what you are doing. When you are first learning mindfulness, it can be helpful to practice applying these skills in situations that are not emotionally charged. This is because it’s easiest to learn new skills when you feel calm and in control. As you practice your mindfulness skills more frequently, you’ll notice that they’re easier to access even in times of distress. Today’s post will focus on applying mindfulness skills to emotionally charged situations.
When you notice yourself becoming emotional, take a second to call on your mindfulness skills. As you observe your emotion, try to step back from it and look at it neutrally. Notice its presence, and don’t try to get rid of it or force it to stick around. Notice that sometimes emotions can feel like waves; they come and go with varying intensities. This isn’t a process you can control, but it’s a process that you can observe calmly.
Remember that while you can’t control how you FEEL, you can control how you BEHAVE. Feelings aren’t actions; they are action urges. This means that when we feel a certain emotion, we have the urge or desire to behave a certain way in response. But if we can notice how we feel and notice the action urge that arises, we can then make a choice about how we want to behave. Maybe we choose to act on the action urge, and maybe we don’t. But mindfulness allows us to slow down enough to make a conscious decision about what to do next.
There are 5 basic steps that you can take to a) mindfully observe your emotion and b) decide how you want to behave. Next time you find yourself in a distressing situation, try working your way through these steps and observe how you feel afterwards.
Sometimes you might apply mindfulness to a difficult situation and still find it difficult not to follow through on your action urges (even if you recognize that those urges won’t move you closer to your goals). That’s a natural and expected part of the process. Learning to become more mindful and to think before you behave takes time, especially if you’ve spent much of your life acting quickly when you feel highly emotional. Keep working on your mindfulness skills, and it will become easier with time. If you’d like more help using mindfulness to cope with strong feelings, contact us for a free phone consultation.
Diana Gordon, Psy.D., Kari Kagan Psy.D., and Katie Leoni, Psy.D.
Drs. Gordon, Kagan, and Leoni practice psychotherapy in downtown San Francisco and Oakland. Their areas of expertise include anxiety, sleep, stress, depression, and addiction. They blog about these topics to provide research-based information about common problems and strategies to help manage them.