Navigating Intense Emotions

Try as we might to always have a Zen state of mind, we fail miserably when emotions rise to the surface and sometimes boil over. We can feel overwhelmed by them if we do not learn how to manage them correctly. As a result, we might end up being plunged in sadness, anger, or even in the best of cases, intense euphoria that can leave us feeling as if something were missing after it subsides. It is important to learn to identify, process, and navigate through intense emotions.

Emotions are valid

Different people feel different emotions even when they are put in the exact same situation. Emotions stem from thoughts and sometimes, preconceived notions. For instance, the Holidays can make some people happy, while others feel sad, angry, or even afraid. These feelings cumulatively influence our thoughts, enabling us to form split-second opinions about various situations and guide our decision making through intuition. 

Even though emotions form the cornerstone of the eventual development of intuition and gut instinct, they get a bad rep and people who carry their emotions right on the surface are often viewed as somehow inferior. In men, this social conditioning can cause toxic masculinity, where men tend to project a stoic personality and suppress their emotions to meet the expectations from society. 

“…Teach him there is no shame in tears…” -Abraham Lincoln

We need to collectively realize that we mustn’t censor emotions within us or others. Instead, we must hone and develop this tool that evolution has bestowed upon us into a life skill.

Processing Intense Emotions

As we go through life, we might face situations which can stir emotions stronger than we are generally used to. The untrained response to such situations can be a complete shutdown or feeling overwhelmed. Though most of us recover quickly and completely after the situation passes, it might still leave a lasting adverse impact if it was improperly processed. These events can seed a negative connotation to the experience itself, which almost always never stops with the experience itself but goes on to chip away at our self-confidence.

In order to learn to navigate intense emotions, we must first practice identifying our emotions with focussed intention and mindfulness. Some experiences can leave us feeling a lot of mixed emotions and as a result can sometimes impair our critical thinking. A useful practice can be to maintain a journal and track the emotions that one goes through throughout the day. Each entry can contain an event and how this event inspired a specific emotion or a group of emotions. If you cannot find words to describe the emotion, you can even use emojis or caricatures to identify them. This exercise is to consciously connect the dots between thought, feeling, and back to thought as a result of the feelings. Identifying emotions as we go through a ‘normal’ day can sharpen our ability to swiftly discern specific emotions in case of a sudden outburst of intense emotions. 

Once we identify our emotions, the task is to mindfully allow it to run its course without hindering or intensifying it based on our snap judgement. A personal tip is to use breathing as a focal point from which we shift our attention to the emotion and back to the breathing, the moment we realize our interference. Some things that you can notice are physical manifestations (for example, sweating, flushing or tearing up) or change in mental state (maybe, memories and thoughts that surface and how this affects our current actions). Emotions often play a crucial role in helping us through an experience and it is our mind’s response which in turn triggers a wide variety of bodily functions. So, it is important that we don’t shirk away even as they build up to a hot white intensity.

Finally, as the emotions subside, take your time to retreat within yourself and sit with the thoughts and feelings and consciously bring them to a close. Some might feel that reacting quickly is of the essence, however, more often than not, actions taken when we aren’t thinking straight are regrettable when we look back at them. So, it is wiser to be patient when coming up with a decision or response, verbal, or otherwise. 

Shifting our Locus

It is important to reiterate again and again that we needn’t be rigid in our thoughts and must broaden our perspective to the possibilities. Our views regarding an experience can change and will change for the better, if we learn to process our emotions in a healthier way . We must make a sincere attempt to refrain from consciously or subconsciously passing blanket statements, such as, “I can never learn to socialize properly.”, “I will always have a short temper.” or “No one will ever love me for me.” This can always change. We only need to shift our locus. 

We might also consider talking about these experiences and feelings with close friends and family. They can offer a different perspective to the situation and can even help transform your thought process completely. It might be helpful to preface this conversation by communicating your expectations and that this is a serious discussion so that you can avoid judgement for opening up.

Emotions are a part of our minds and might even have provided an evolutionary advantage to building strong social bonds. They are vital to living a mentally healthy life and there are no good or bad emotions since each and every one of these complex feelings help us navigate life on a constant basis. So, instead of fearing or hiding them, we must embrace them. 

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