Mindfully coping with emotions
Mindfulness can help you handle difficult emotions better by helping you tune in to them, rather than try to escape from them.

By: Mind - Mental Health - 11/15/2018

Mindfulness can enable you handle difficult emotions better by helping you tune in to them rather than try to escape from them.  Whether you're dealing with day-to-day hassles or struggling with more serious problems such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, or addiction, it's possible to make things worse by trying to ignore or forget the cause.

For example, if you have PTSD, you might try to avoid doing anything that you associate with the traumatic experience.  Ironically, you might find that as you attempt to escape uncomfortable feelings, you actually experience those feelings even more.

Mindfulness is a method of focusing your awareness on the present moment.  It can allow you to acknowledge and accept your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations without judgment.  The practice of mindfulness can help lower blood pressure, improve concentration, boost your immune system, and alleviate some aspects of anxiety and maybe even depressive symptoms.

How Does Mindfulness Work?

Mindfulness can retrain your brain to remain non-judgmental and present in the moment.  When you're experiencing negative emotions, you can end up in an internal debate:  "I shouldn't feel this way, but I do, but I shouldn't…" This debate can leave you feeling more distressed.  At times, it can be unhelpful to use words to wrestle with your experience and assign value to how you should or should not be feeling.

Instead, try a mindful approach:  Just tune in to the physical sensations associated with your emotions and the impact they have on your body.  Regular practice of mindfulness can help you (1) bring more awareness to how your emotions impact your brain and body and (2) notice and accept what you're experiencing without judgment.

How Do You Practice Mindfulness?

You can start to develop a mindfulness practice by focusing on whatever you're experiencing in the present moment.  You can use a structured meditation activity, but a good start is to just purposefully engage in being present and in the moment, regardless of where you are and what you're doing. 

A common meditative approach is to focus on a physical experience such as your breathing, notice where your attention wanders, and gently guide it back to your breath.  Mindfulness—being in the present—allows you to experience unpleasant emotions (such as sadness, anger, and fear) and let them pass without the effort of making them go away.  You can become more mindful by practicing a few minutes of meditation each day.

Give This A Try For 10 Minutes:

  • Sit in a chair with your spine straight, your feet on the floor, and your hands relaxed and resting on your thighs.

  • Close your eyes or focus on a spot on the floor about 3 feet in front of you.

  • Notice your breathing as it comes in and out of your nose or mouth.

  • First, notice any thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they arise.

  • Then let them go by returning your attention back to your breathing. This should quiet your mind.

The bottom line:  Unfortunately, you can't escape unpleasant emotions, and you probably wouldn't want to anyway since those emotions serve a purpose.  If you do try to escape, more problems are likely to arise.  But if you're willing to engage and accept your emotions, practicing mindfulness for just a few minutes each day can help you become better equipped to handle even the toughest emotions.

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