How To Navigate Challenging Emotions With Ease And Grace
We are living in unprecedented times as many of us shelter in place in our homes; alone, with a partner or roommates, or with children. At the time of this writing, we have no clear idea of how long this will last… but I imagine it’s going to be some weeks, possibly months, before we are able to gather in groups again and hug people. Challenging emotions are bound to come up, over and over.
It’s not all bad
My own home life is amazing… I already work at home, I’m an introvert, I adore my husband (and vice versa), and we are used to being home together 24/7. I also have powerful tools I’ve been successfully using for many years to work through challenging emotions and to work through difficulties and disagreements with my partner. I want to share my 3 keys for navigating challenging emotions for those who don’t have it so easy during this time of isolation, confusion, uncertainty, and fear.
1st Key: The Powerful Practice of Presence
The overarching concept I want to share today is one that I’ve been teaching to groups since 2012. It’s one of those easy-to-say-hard-to-do-consistently ideas. I believe it’s gone by the wayside because of the speed at which we’ve been living, working, and moving along with the advent of the internet and information overload. That concept is Presence.
But what is it?
Let me break it down for you. I define Presence as full attention, awareness, and participation in the present moment. That means right now, moment by moment. Bringing it back again and again. Multi-tasking and Presence are mortal enemies. Thinking and Presence cannot co-exist. You might even call Presence an absence of thought. Does it sound easy? Let’s dive deeper.
Presence begins with self. With you. With your body, your challenging emotions, and your feelings. You cannot possibly be present with another without being present with yourself first. Take a moment right now, close your eyes, and ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I feeling right now in my body?
- What are my thoughts?
- What’s happening in my emotional body?
- What is my breath doing?
Focusing on your breath is a quick and easy way to get present with yourself. Try this experiment: close your eyes and take a nice, slow, deep breath and let it out slowly. While you do this, try thinking. It doesn’t work very well, does it? Focusing on your breath will bring you present to yourself over and over. It’s a practice… which means it takes practice!
When you can be present with yourself consistently, you then have the capacity to be present for another. I’ll talk more about that in the 3rd Key.
2nd Key: Processing Your Own Challenging Emotions
Even the most skilled and learned of people are experiencing a range of intense and challenging emotions during this time. No one is exempt from the roller coaster ride the entire world is on. It’s important to have tools to move through these emotions, to acknowledge and process them rather than stuffing them. Stuffing our emotions is part of what got us here… doing so lowers immune function and negatively impacts our capacity to handle challenging situations. When we stuff our emotions, they come out sideways when we least expect it… sometimes as illness and disease.
Step 1: Willingness
The first step in processing big emotions is willingness. That means being willing to go toward the challenging emotion, breathe and expand into it, as it arises. While this may seem counterintuitive and the instinct to contract is strong, it’s the fastest way to move through it. Many people fear that once they start to feel something big, it will never stop. That’s just fear talking. Emotions are like waves, they rise, peak, crash, and recede. You can learn how to ride the waves of your emotions and express them (safely!), which allows them to leave your body. And layer by layer, you can free yourself and emerge on the other side of them. I say layer by layer because of the spiral nature of life. Memories, reminders, and feelings circle back around. But if you’re willing to really be present with emotions as they arise, you’ll have a whole new perspective and a sense of confidence on how to move through them next time.
Step 2: Embodiment
The second step in processing big emotions is embodiment. Embodiment is a choice and a practice of being fully aware of and occupying your body with your being, all the way down to your feet and even deeper into connection with the earth (grounding). As you move toward your own emotions, find a space where you can move your body freely and safely. That might look like a well-padded chair or couch, lots of pillows, or a bed. Move your body as you feel, let the emotions ride you even as you ride the emotional wave. Make sounds… please make sounds!! It will really help with the process and move things faster.
3rd Key: Holding Space for Others
Holding space is a term I define as bringing presence to another with intention to create safety and unconditional acceptance of another’s experience. When you have the capacity to hold space for someone else’s process you offer them an incredible gift. The gift of your Presence.
Presence with Self
In order to hold space with true Presence, you’ve got to be steady and present with yourself in the face of someone else’s strong emotions and let them wash over you without impacting you. Easier said than done, but with practice, it’s very possible. If you’re an empath, you will probably need extra psychic protection and boundaries.
With solid self-presence and by staying with your breath, you can develop the capacity to hold space without
- Taking it personally
- Arguing back
- Reacting (with facial expressions, words, or attitude)
- Advising or counseling
- Validating or approving
Holding space for someone else’s process, challenging emotions, or even blame and accusations coming toward you allows them to move through it, feel they’ve been heard, and can completely diffuse the situation. It’s an incredibly powerful way to de-escalate tense situations, arguments, and tantrums and let meltdowns run their course.
We’re all in this together
Ideally, you have a home situation where everyone learns and practices these keys. When that’s the case, you will each have the tools to process your own emotions as well as hold space for each other. These keys will serve you well in every kind of relationship and through the rest of your life.
I wish you peace and harmony during your isolation time, and please comment below about your experiences with these keys.
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