*Thanks to all the incredibly wise individuals who have shared these hacks with me over the years. You’ve changed my life.
Most people I know would describe me as cool, relaxed, and easy-going – like a person who doesn’t get worked up or emotional or stressed out. To those who know me, and to those who read my carefully written blog posts, the following may come as a bit of surprise:
I used to have a hard time managing my emotions.
I’ve always been in envy of people who just feel content all the time, without trying. How do you do it? Contentment never came to me naturally, and I’ve often found my emotions affected by certain people or situations in ways that feel, well, intense. I’ve tried to pin this on many different things, from nature vs. nurture – even my astrological sign (I’m a cancer) is more susceptible to the effects of emotions than the other signs.
Trying to find the answers to how I got to be the way I am didn’t always help me silence the emotions duking it out in my head – primarily because knowledge and practice are two separate things. But I have learned some simple hacks and mantras that have taught me how to feed the good wolf inside my head, rather than the evil one.
While none of these “cured” me instantly, what they did do was lessen the intensity of emotions – which, over time, has a cumulative effect of turning me into the calm, relaxed, easy-going person I present to the world around me.
10 Hacks for Heavy Emotions
Fake it till you make it.
At first glance, the idea of “faking” it might seem, well, false. But in truth I think the word “fake” was chosen primarily because it rhymes with “make” – lending the mantra a mnemonic.
– Because we’re all faking it a little bit, aren’t we? Does this need to be a disappointing revelation about life as we know it? Nah, it’s not that big of a deal. Life is all about shaping yourself, relating to others, getting better at things – and sometimes it takes a lot of time to make these things happen. So in the meantime, you just fake it a little bit until you get to where you’re going.
And nowhere is that more important than with your emotions. Sometimes you just gotta ride it through to the end to see if it’s going to work.
Repeat after me: “Not my issue.”
There are a lot people in the world and they all have a lot of different issues. Scroll down to the bottom of any online posting, news story, popular blog and have a glance at the comments section – issues, issues, and more issues. Funny enough, all these different issues have one thing in common:
None of them are your issues.
“Not my issue.” – You can literally say it under your breath when the other person’s issue is coming at you, and over time you’ll begin to feel it pass by, like a dead leaf blowing in the wind.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have empathy for someone else’s plight, or have a desire to change things around you; it’s important to fight for the big issues (world peace, anyone?) – but there are a whole hell of a lot of other people’s emotions and problems that are simply not worth your time or energy.
Get to know your early warning signs.
I can always tell when I’m getting depleted of mental energy when I become more sensitive to sound: yell-talkers, phones ringing, traffic congestion noise – where normally I wouldn’t notice these sounds as much, they become sharper and more piercing.
This is an early warning sign, one that’s communicating to me that I’m depleted. How do I know it’s an early warning sign? Years of experience! It’s a pattern I’ve discovered over a period of time through mindfulness.
When I notice my early warning signs, rather than – each and every time – being all like, “Well now what’s this all about?” – instead I simply do what I’ve already decided (in advance) needs to be done when I’m depleted: make recharging a priority over other things.
You’re only human.
Yes, it’s a bit of a cliché – but it’s a cliché worth repeating to yourself because we forget that we’re human all the time.
Fact: Having emotions and reacting to those emotions are 2 separate things.
While emotions are, for the most part, reflexive – we don’t have a whole lot of control over them chemically speaking – what we do have more control over is how we react to those emotions. What I’m not advocating for is ignoring your emotions. On the contrary, emotions are there for a reason: to communicate something to you about a person, a place, or a situation that you ought to take into consideration.
But at the same time, emotions don’t always discriminate or differentiate – they can have a broad-spectrum effect, and sometimes they don’t match the situation. It doesn’t mean you should ignore those emotions; however, it could mean that setting the emotion to the side (sometimes that might mean excusing yourself from a situation) until you can make a clear, reasonable decision on how to respond is the best choice of how to react.
Be kind to your self.
We tend to understand kindness as something that we direct outwardly, toward other people. And while many of us would never describe ourselves as unkind, in fact we can be really mean to ourselves at times.
Remember that you are something that deserves kindness, compassion, and understanding – just as much as the people around you.
Care a bit less.
Sometimes we care too much, about our work, our relationships, certain aspects of our lives – to the point where the caring gets in the way of our success at the thing we care about. Work is a prime example. We might feel like professional success means always keeping our eye on the ball and ear to the ground, constantly checking emails, worrying about outcomes of decisions we’ve made, replaying scenarios over and over in our minds to figure out if there was a better option.
What’s ironic about caring too much about something like work is that, in actual fact, it might make you less successful because you burn yourself out. Contrary to what we might think, defining limits on how much we care – and trying our hardest to care within those limits – can in fact make you better at your job and more successful in the long run.
Don’t “should” yourself.
I’ve mentioned my disdain for the word “should” in previous posts, but it bears repeating. When we use “should” statements, we are displacing ownership over the thing we “should” be doing. “I shouldn’t feel the way I do” is a prime example I have struggled with in the past when I’ve had feelings about a person or a thing that didn’t seem “normal” or accord with the situation.
Regardless of how you “should” feel, the reality is you feel the way you feel. Learning to accept that, in itself, helps make the emotion less intense.
Distraction is your friend.
We’ve been raised to believe that distraction is something to be avoided. Student report cards are riddled with “distracted” as a negative characteristic, and the fact that we deliberately distract ourselves at work sometimes is something we hide from our bosses. Obviously if you’re too distracted all the time that can be a problem, but there is a time and a place that distraction is needed.
For many years as a therapeutic exercise, I used to carry a shoulder bag with me that had a series of things I could use to distract myself, like crossword puzzles, books, music, a snack. This stuff acted as a safety net I could use if I found myself in a situation where I was overwhelmed by something. During this time, I had given myself permission to be genuinely distracted – not because I was hiding from something, but because I was learning how to be less affected by things.
You don’t always have to be watching your emotions for fear they’ll boil over. Sometimes you can put a lid over them for a short while and let them simmer down a bit, before returning to them. Don’t worry, they’ll still be there – they’ll just be a little more settled.
Speak when you are ready.
Introverts, especially, naturally take more time to process their thoughts and feelings than extroverted personality types. This isn’t because we’re cognitively slower – we simply have a naturally born need to hone in on what we want to say and mull it over before we carelessly blurt it out.
I’ve been accused of being closed-off, aloof, and passive aggressive in the past during emotional interactions with others (typically partners) because I reserve my reactions and responses. Am I those things? Perhaps, but I don’t mean to be, I just need a bit more time to formulate my thoughts before speaking.
Which is probably why I love the written word so much (in case you didn’t notice).
While each of these little hacks and mantras might seem small on their own, combined they have made me feel freer, more in control, and better able to enjoy life. And as for that evil wolf inside my head, the good wolf has totally kicked his butt.