Difficult emotions – what to do with them | Guest View
Debut of column to run in Prime Living section
Last updated 1/28/2021 at 11:25am
Jan. 11 marked the one-year anniversary of the first death from COVID-19 reported by China and the unprecedented change that was about to occur throughout the world.
Over the last year, our lives have been completely uprooted and changed. We have begun to work from home, limited our time outside and our contact with friends and family. As we were adjusting to the new normal, there was unique political and civil unrest in the country.
This last year has left many feeling anxious and uncertain. The end of the holiday season and the dreary winter days in the Pacific Northwest have taken a toll on our emotions.
Loneliness, sadness, anxiety, uncertainty, and even anger are all very normal emotions to experience during this time and at other times in our lives. These emotions can be difficult to deal with, but they are not bad emotions. They are just emotions.
It is important that we do not ignore them or distract ourselves with social media or put a smile on our face and act like everything is OK. Doing so can be detrimental to our overall health. But how do we deal with these emotions? There are specific ways to address these difficult emotions.
First, be mindful of your emotions and accept them. These feelings will not go away because we want them to. Many of us feel guilty or weak. It is important to remember that emotions are just that – emotions ... they are not good or bad.
What is important is how we deal with these emotions. Accepting our emotions is understanding that we cannot control them, but we can control how we react to them.
Next, allow yourself to feel the emotion. If you feel a sudden rise of emotion, stop, and try to become aware of what you are feeling. Take the time to process how you feel; do not brush it aside. Cry if you need to, and consider talking to someone about how you are feeling. It is a good idea to sit with the emotions a bit and have a better understanding of what you are feeling before you talk with someone.
As you begin to sit with your emotions, try to begin to identify what that emotion is ... many of us have a very limited vocabulary when it comes to naming emotions. It is important to understand that anger is an emotion that can cover up other emotions – anxiety, fear, uncertainty, self-consciousness, and even sadness.
After you identify the emotion, you can begin to distance yourself from that emotion. By distancing yourself from the actual feeling of the emotion, it allows you to respond rather than react.
As Brianna Wiest explained, "Your feelings aren't random, they are messengers. And if you want to get anywhere, you need to be able to let them speak to you and tell you what you really need."
By not reacting, you are able to make decisions that more closely align to your values.
When you distance yourself from the emotion, you can examine it a bit more. What triggered the emotion? Was my reaction appropriate? By doing this, you can learn, heal, and let go.
This is a process, and sometimes we need to do it many times before we become comfortable identifying and letting go of difficult emotions. Sometimes, we cannot let go of these emotions, and they begin to consume our thoughts. If this happens, do not be afraid to seek professional help.
Michelle Reitan is the social worker and director of Health and Wellness programming for the Edmonds Waterfront Center. She has a master's of social work from the University of Washington and sits on the Human Services Commission for the city of Lynnwood.
As part of her responsibilities at the Edmonds Waterfront Center, she helps coach individuals in managing depression and chronic conditions. Michelle and her husband have lived in the Pacific Northwest for over 20 years. She has two children, one attending college and the other in high school. Michelle enjoys baking, reading, and hiking.
Michelle's column will run regularly in the Beacon's Prime Living section. She can be reached at [email protected] or (425) 954-2523.