Other than likes and Quest Bars, I have no current addictions (therapist of the yeeaaaar!). Sometimes this still surprises me–historically, I’m no stranger to self-destructive emotional numbing. Maybe all that yoga’s finally working, or my frontal lobe has finally fully developed, or I’ve finally begun to default to healthier coping mechanisms like Netflix, Cat Stevens, and collapsing on the floor in a puddle of tears (true story about once a year. Varying impetuses).

Although my strategies for dealing may have drastically improved over the past decade, I definitely still feel difficult emotions. And no matter how enlightened or good at life you become, you will too. That’s because as long as we’re alive, we’ll encounter scenarios that evoke raw shit, contrary to what various industries want us to believe (“Lose weight/get married/make $1m and NEVER feel painful feelings again!!!”).

Of course the key to a happy existence is to be able to feel those difficult emotions without being consumed by them. Almost like you’re watching them in a movie theatre. At times, you get so engrossed in the movie it feels real, but you can easily snap out of that and know it’s just a movie.

How does one accomplish this? Rather than trying to avoid or suppress the following feelings (which ultimately gives the emotions the power), get to know these experiences. Gaze at them with curiosity. Take them into your hands (metaphorically, people, c’mon). Inspect them. Turn them over and do the same thing on the other side. Explore their texture, their weight, their color (yep, still metaphoring here. Bear with me). Ultimately, open up to them. In doing so, the power will transfer from the emotion to you. And you’ll feel more competent in handling life.

Let’s briefly explore six experiences I guarantee you will feel again in life, their close “friends” (similar or concurrent feelings), and a few suggestions for healthy coping.

1. “I’m Lonely”

I feel lonely pretty regularly. I always have. It doesn’t matter if I’m single or in a relationship, new to a city or have lived there for a decade. Loneliness seeps in. I tend to make it worse by voyeuristically stalking social media, ignoring calls and texts, and believing that no one else in the world is lonely.

Now, loneliness is painful, but it’s not a “bad” feeling. It’s not a sign that you’re immature or pathologically needy or don’t have a good relationship with yourself. Loneliness is an evolutionarily adaptive experience that motivates us to connect. If it didn’t feel uncomfortable, we wouldn’t want to be around people.

Fun fact? Loneliness is the #1 most searched term of how people find my blog (so you’re in good company, lonely readers!). I also think a lot more people would feel lonely than they’d admit, if they would slow down a tad and stop distracting themselves from their feelings.

Friends of loneliness include isolation, disconnection, emptiness, meaninglessness and existential anxiety.

How to take back the power:

  • Give yourself permission to feel lonely & practice self-compassion
  • Remind yourself it’s normal and healthy and transient, and everyone feels it
  • Make sure you’re not making it worse by being self-critical or believing social media’s suggestions that no one else in the world is lonely
  • Do something soothing–music, a show, a yoga class, etc
  • Connect to someone
  • Get spiritual
  • Read more of my tips on coping with loneliness here

2. “I feel Rejected”

Haven’t felt rejected in a while? Don’t worry! Just masochistically creep on all your now-married exes and remind yourself that they chose their now-life partners over you! It’s like digging a nail into scar tissue. Didn’t hurt when you just left it alone, but sometimes you just wanna make sure the pain’s still there. Am I right?

Most of us have been rejected in some way in the romantic realm, but rejection extends beyond heartache. You can experience rejection when you don’t get a job you wanted, get your grad school application denied, aren’t invited to a social gathering or conference, etc. etc. Rejection is everywhere!

The pain of rejection is similar to loneliness in that it’s evolutionary adaptive. We yearn for acceptance and connection, not only for attachment and procreation but also for survival. You can make it worse by globalizing–telling yourself that an instance of rejection makes you undesirable/a reject/un-hirable/etc.

Friends of rejection include heartbreak, failure, defeat, hurt, shame, disappointment, envy, and exclusion.

How to take back the power:

  • Give yourself permission to feel rejected & practice self-compassion
  • Remind yourself it’s normal and healthy and transient, and everyone feels it
  • If possible, find the humor and share with others. We all have heartbreakingly funny rejection stories.
  • Find meaning in the rejection–identify what positive experience or quality in your life wouldn’t be possible if that rejection hadn’t happened, and remind yourself rejection is a great exercise in not attaching to expectations.
  • If the feelings of rejection are related to some heartbreak, try to cultivate compassion for your rejector
  • Read more of my tips on coping with rejection here (casual relationship breakup) and here (mad heartbreak, yo)

3. “I’m F#&*ing Pissed (off)!”

A DJ moved in next door recently. My initial thought was, Cool! Maybe we’ll become besties and I’ll finally get to be friends with T-Swift because clearly if he’s a DJ he’s tight with Calvin Harris!

Fast forward three weeks. We’re not friends. My fantasy bubble was popped shortly thereafter, as a house mashup of California Love pounded through my bedroom wall for the umpteenth time. Surely he has some sort of equipment where he can spin beats in silence? Isn’t there some sort of bylaw against this? Are we part of a strata? And eff him for ruining California Love for me, damnit!

As a feeling, anger is healthy. It tells us we’ve been mistreated in some way. It gets us out of abusive relationships and keeps us from being treating like doormats. Now, if I broke into his apartment and smashed his turntables, or bought a set of my own to give him a taste of his own medicine, that wouldn’t be the most productive day of reacting to my anger.

Still, anger is one of the more challenging emotions to respond to rationally. Our amygdala take us out of our rational prefrontal cortex, and we “see red.” Personally, I find it the most challenging emotion to sit with. We can make it worse when judge ourselves for feeling angry or believe the injustice we experienced was deserved.

Friends of anger include humiliation, deceit, betrayal, injustice, frustration, annoyance, disgust, persecution, and contempt.

How to take back the power:

  • Give yourself permission to feel angry & practice self-compassion
  • Remind yourself it’s normal and healthy and transient, and everyone feels it
  • Express! Anger can be motivating, so use that energy for healthy expression (e.g. calling an understanding friend, kickboxing, writing, NIN)
  • Read more of my tips on coping with anger here

4. “I’m so Anxious!!!”

Ah, anxiety. It’s like you’ve drunk too much coffee, but without the positivity! Anxiety, too, is adaptively motivating in many cases. Without it, you wouldn’t get anywhere on time. You wouldn’t veer out of the way of an oncoming car. You’d walk through dark alleys obliviously and never let a strange lump send you to the doctor. Anxiety is telling us we have to do something–be vigilant, prepare, gtfo out wherever we are.

But anxiety isn’t always adaptive. Sometimes it comes from hormones or caffeine or a nutrient deficiency or an overactive amygdala. That can still be motivating (e.g. to take magnesium or stop drinking so much coffee) but it’s important to acknowledge it’s not always going to go away by focusing on rational thoughts. I definitely recommend seeking help for chronic anxiety.

We can make anxiety worse by pressuring ourselves to stop feeling anxious, which then makes us anxious over being anxious.

Friends of anxiety include fear, uncertainty, stress, worry, panic.

How to take back the power:

  • Give yourself permission to feel anxious & practice self-compassion
  • Remind yourself it’s normal and healthy and transient, and everyone feels it (unless it’s present most days for months–in that case, anxiety is saying “Call your therapist”)
  • Do something soothing while permitting the anxiety to be there–yoga, essential oils, music, visualization, deep breathing, exercise, nature, etc. (you prob have what works for you)
  • Take off a layer or cool down your environment
  • Read more of my tips on coping with anxiety here, herehere, and here

5. “I’m Grieving”

All right. If you’ve denied knowing any of the other experiences I mentioned, the denying stops here. GRIEF DISCRIMINATES AGAINST NO ONE. It doesn’t matter how privileged or sheltered you are. If you’re capable of forming attachments, you’re capable of experiencing grief. Grief indicates you’ve lost someone or something we value. The more strongly you’re attached to someone or something, the more grief you feel.

We feel grief when we lose our grandparent or friend, when we lose our pet hamster, and when we breakup, retire, move homes, miscarry, go through menopause, etc. etc. We can make grief worse by judging the way we’re grieving (“I should be crying more/less.” “I shouldn’t feel relieved.” “I should be over this by now.” “I shouldn’t be laughing yet,” etc. etc.).

How to take back the power:

  • Give yourself permission to grieve in whatever way it manifests & practice self-compassion
  • Remind yourself it’s normal and healthy and a necessary experience in life, and it will become less painful as time passes (albeit not in a clean, linear fashion)
  • Above all, don’t judge your grief process. There’s no “right” way
  • Do something soothing while permitting it to be there–music, a show, a yoga class, etc.
  • Connect with others who are having or have had a similar experience
  • Use creative outlets to help you process–art, writing, dance, music, etc.
  • Read more of my tips on coping with grief here

6. “I feel Depressed” & “I feel overwhelming Shame”

I didn’t want to choose a frontrunner for this one. Depression and shame are equally paralyzing, and usually coexist. Depression tells us we’re not living with purpose and connection, and shame tells us we’re living outside of acceptable cultural norms. The problem here, though, is that depression and shame lie to us a lot. They tell us we’re not good enough or we’re unloveable or worthless. And a lot of this comes from socially constructed expectations around what defines “success” in life.

Every few months, I go through a stint of chronic shame. It consists of about five days of believing I’m bad friend, daughter, girlfriend, and member of society. Maybe it’s PMS. Maybe it’s a change of seasons or barometric pressure kind of thing. Maybe it’s too much gluten or not enough B12. Whatever the reason, it happens and has happened for a long time.

It used to be that I’d try to “snap out of it” and “be positive.” I’d beat myself up for wallowing, consider myself a hypocritical mental health professional, and be frustrated with my inability to pinpoint exactly what was causing the low mood. But I’ve stopped pressuring myself to snap out of it or feel better. I remind myself of its impermanent nature, lower my expectations for myself for a few days, practice self-care, and ride it out.

Keep in mind a brief depression is different from a clinical depression, which I don’t suggest you “ride out.

Friends include guilt, regret, anxiety, worthlessness, inadequacy, hopelessness.

How to take back the power:

  • Give yourself permission to feel depressed & practice self-compassion
  • Remind yourself it’s normal and transient
  • Hear what shame and depression are telling you. For example, is depression telling you you’re not living your passion and ought to consider going back to school or changing jobs? Is shame telling you cheating on your partner isn’t in line with your values? Maybe we listen.
  • If what they’re telling you doesn’t stack up, remind yourself they’re just thoughts and do something soothing while making space for the pain
  • Lower your expectations for productivity–these feelings make it tough to focus
  • Try to muster the energy to connect
  • Volunteer or engage in some other activity of service
  • Seek the support of a therapist

———————————————–

Obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list of every difficult emotion you repeatedly encounter in life. If I missed one that’s common for you, please comment and I’ll weigh in! The point I’m trying to make here, though, is that life is far less frightening when we approach or anticipate these experiences in a different way than we’re traditionally taught. Don’t try to avoid them or suppress them. Don’t judge yourself for having them–in fact, it would be more worrisome if you didn’t have them! In sum, open up to the discomfort, give yourself permission to experience the universal, human emotions, and practice reacting in caring ways. That, my friend, is your not-so-secret weapon to enjoying life :).

Advertisements