6 Ways to Use Mindfulness to Ease Difficult Emotions

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Mindfulness has become quite the buzzword these days, with impressive studies popping up in the news with regularity.

For example, research from the University of Oxford finds that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is just as effective as antidepressants for preventing a relapse of depression. In MBCT, a person learns to pay closer attention to the present moment and to let go of the negative thoughts and ruminations that can trigger depression. They also explore a greater awareness of their own body, identifying stress and signs of depression before a crisis hits.

Four years ago, I took an eight-week intensive Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at Anne Arundel Community Hospital. The course was approved by and modeled from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s incredibly successful program at the University of Massachusetts. I often refer to the wise chapters of Kabat-Zinn’s book, Full Catastrophe Living (which we used as a text book). Here are a few of the strategies he offers:

Hold Your Feelings with Awareness

One of the key concepts of mindfulness is bringing awareness to whatever you are experiencing — not pushing it away, ignoring it, or trying to replace it with a more positive experience. This is extraordinarily difficult when you are in the midst of deep pain, but it can also cut the edge off of the suffering.

“Strange as it may sound,” explains Kabat-Zinn, “the intentional knowing of your feelings in times of emotional suffering contains in itself the seeds of healing.” This is because the awareness itself is independent of your suffering. It exists outside of your pain.

So just as the weather unfolds within the sky, painful emotions happen against the backdrop of our awareness. This means we are no longer a victim of a storm. We are affected by it, yes, but it no longer happens to us. By relating to our pain consciously, and bringing awareness to our emotions, we are engaging with our feelings instead of being a victim to them and the stories we tell ourselves.

Accept What Is

At the heart of much of our suffering is our desire for things to be different than they are.

“If you are mindful as emotional storms occur,” writes Kabat-Zinn, “perhaps you will see in yourself an unwillingness to accept things as they already are, whether you like them or not.”

You may not be ready to accept things as they are, but knowing that part of your pain stems from the desire for things to be different can help put some space between you and your emotions.

Ride the Wave

One of the most reassuring elements of mindfulness for me is the reminder that nothing is permanent. Even though pain feels as though it is constant or solid at times, it actually ebbs and flows much like the ocean. The intensity fluctuates, comes and goes, and therefore gives us pockets of peace.

“Even these recurring images, thoughts, and feelings have a beginning and an end,” explains Kabat-Zinn, “that they are like waves that rise up in the mind and then subside. You may also notice that they are never quite the same. Each time one comes back, it is slightly different, never exactly the same as any pervious wave.”

Apply Compassion

Kabat-Zinn compares mindfulness of emotions to that of a loving mother who would be a source of comfort and compassion for her child who was upset. A mother knows that the painful emotions will pass — she is separate to her child’s feelings — so she is that awareness that provides peace and perspective. “Sometimes we need to care for ourselves as if that part of us that is suffering is our own child,” Kabat-Zinn writes. “Why not show compassion, kindness, and sympathy toward our own being, even as we open fully to our pain?”

Separate Yourself from the Pain

People who have suffered years from chronic illness tend to define themselves by their illnesses. Sometimes their identity is wrapped up in their symptoms. Kabat-Zinn reminds us that the painful feelings, sensations, and thoughts are separate to who we are. “Your awarenessof sensations, thoughts, and emotions is different from the sensations, the thoughts, and the emotions themselves,” he writes. “That aspect of your being that is aware is not itself in pain or ruled by these thoughts and feelings at all. It knows them, but it itself is free of them.”

He cautions us about the tendency to define ourselves as a “chronic pain patient.” “Instead,” he says, “remind yourself on a regular basis that you are a whole person who happens to have to face and work with a chronic pain condition as intelligently as possible — for the sake of your quality of life and well-being.”

Uncouple Your Thoughts, Emotions, and Sensations

Just as the sensations, thoughts, and emotions are separate from my identity, they are separate from each other. We tend to lump them all in together: “I feel anxious” or “I am depressed.” However, if we tease them apart, we might realize that a sensation (such as heart palpitations or nausea) we are experiencing is made worse by certain thoughts, and those thoughts feed other emotions.

By holding all three in awareness, we could find that the thoughts are nothing more than untrue narratives that are feeding emotions of fear and panic, and that by associating the thoughts and emotions with the sensation, we are creating more pain for ourselves.

“This phenomenon of uncoupling can give us new degrees of freedom in resting in awareness and holding whatever arises in any or all of these three domains in an entirely different way, and dramatically reduce the suffering experienced,” explains Kabat-Zinn.

 

People With Insomnia Struggle With Regulating Their Emotions When It Comes To Embarrassing Memories, A New Study Shows

Bustle Article

When most people make a mistake that really bruises their ego, they’re usually able to brush it off eventually — unless they have insomnia, that is. The Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience published new research in the journal Brain that found that people with insomnia can’t get rid of emotional distress, according to a news release. The researchers’ findings show that one of the causes of insomnia might be related to brain circuits in the brain that regulate emotions, the news release said.

Be prepared to cringe. The researchers took MRI scans of participants’ brain activities while they thought about their most embarrassing experiences that happened decades ago, according to the news release. The people who slept well were able to “neutralize” those memories, the news release said, while the people who experienced insomnia couldn’t do the same. The researchers say their findings might suggest insomnia could be caused by the inability to quell emotional distress, which could explain why insomnia is one of the leading risk factors for developing mood disorders, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the news release.

“Sayings like ‘sleeping on it’ to ‘get things off your mind’ reflect our nocturnal digestion of daytime experiences,” Rick Wassing, first author of the study, said in the news release. “Brain research now shows that only good sleepers profit from sleep when it comes to shedding emotional tension. The process does not work well in people with insomnia. In fact, their restless nights can even make them feel worse.”

The brain imaging shows that one of the causes of insomnia might be brain circuits in the brain responsible for regulating emotions, the news release says, and these circuits contain risk genes for insomnia that might not always activate properly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. “Without the benefits of sound sleep, distressing events of decades ago continue to activate the emotional circuits of the brain as if they are happening right now,” the researchers said.

These new brain image findings support similar findings the same research group recently published in the journal Sleep, which found that people who experience insomnia felt more shame after a night of restless sleep. The researchers in that study made participants feel embarrassed and self-conscious by having them sing karaoke without being able to hear themselves (ouch), and then had them listen to their out-of-tune recordings, according to the news release. The people who slept well got over their feelings of embarrassment, the news release said, but the people with insomnia felt more upset the next day.

People with insomnia have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or they wake up earlier than they want to, according to the National Sleep Foundation. But if you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep on the regular, there are things you can do to try to get some quality rest. The National Sleep Foundation recommends giving yourself around 30 minutes of wind-down time before bed to relax, including shutting down those electronic devices so you make it easier for your brain to fall asleep. But if it’s been more than 20 minutes and you still can’t fall asleep, the National Sleep Foundation says to get up and do something relaxing, like listen to music or read a book.

If emotional distress is keeping you up at night, you’re definitely not alone. You can try some sleep hygiene tips to calm your mind, and if that doesn’t work, you can talk to your doctor or a therapist about ways to help you get a better night’s sleep. Just remember that you’re not destined to toss and turn forever, because there’s help available if you need it.

Which Emotions Do Women Recognize Better Than Men?**

Author Article

Conventional wisdom and a litany of past research suggest that women have higher emotional intelligence than men. But is this really the case?

New research published in the academic journal Emotionexamined this topic in the context of emotion recognition. First, the research team asked both men and women to evaluate a series of photos. Each photo contained an individual expressing one of five basic emotions (anger, disgust, fearhappiness, or sadness). Participants were asked to identify the emotion each photo conveyed.

What did they find? For one, they note that some emotions are better recognized than others. Here is a rank order of the accuracy with which people identified the five emotions tested:

  1. Happiness (Most accurate)
  2. Fear
  3. Anger
  4. Sadness
  5. Disgust (Least accurate)

As for gender differences, the researchers found more parity than they expected. There was, for instance, no clear accuracy advantage for women, as might have been hypothesized. They did, however, show some interesting nuances:

  • Women were significantly better at identifying disgust and sadness.
  • Men were significantly better at identifying happiness.

Two follow-up studies replicated these results using slightly different methodologies.

What is to be made of these results? While conventional wisdom might have led one to expect bigger gender differences in emotion recognition, this research suggests that it might be time to recalibrate preconceived notions. The authors write:

“Why do our findings diverge from what might be thought of as conventional wisdom, i.e., that there is an overall sex difference in emotion recognition? One possible explanation is that of publication bias in this field. This account is supported by a recent meta-analysis of sex differences in emotion recognition ability that reported evidence for an excess of significant findings in the literature (Thompson & Voyer, 2014). For the field to move towards a consensus state, this suggests a need for strongly powered confirmatory studies with pre-registered experimental protocols.”

Even if past literature has overstated gender differences, as the researchers suggest, the current research still finds significant differences between the groups. These, they hypothesize, might best be explained through the lens of evolutionary theory. Because women are the child-bearing gender, they may have a heightened sensitivity to potential contaminants in their environment and might, therefore, be more likely to identify signals of disgust. Conversely, men may show less disgust sensitivity as a way to emphasize their strength and virility.

Whatever the reason, for your next cocktail party, perhaps let the women be the judge of what’s unappetizing and let the men decide who had a good time.

Emotional Neglect In Childhood Predicts Higher Levels Of Insomnia In Young Adults

Author Article

New research has found a link between childhood emotional neglect and insomnia. The findings appear in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.

Previous research has found a strong link between childhood maltreatment and depression. “Importantly, sleep disturbance may be one critical mechanism through which individuals exposed to maltreatment are vulnerable for recurrent depressive episodes. Indeed, sleep complaints are among the most common residual symptoms of depression,” the authors of the study explained.

The researchers surveyed 102 young adults with a history of clinical or subclinical depression regarding childhood trauma, recent life stressors, and anxiety symptoms. The participants also completed a daily measure of depressive symptoms and kept a sleep diary for 2 weeks.

They found that young adults who experienced more childhood emotional neglect reported more difficulty falling and staying asleep, even after controlling for factors such as daily depressive symptoms, recent stress, anxiety, other forms of childhood maltreatment, and several demographic factors.

In other words, participants who did not feel loved or looked out for by their family as children tended to report higher levels of insomnia symptoms.

“Thus, our results highlight a distinct relationship between emotional neglect during childhood and difficulties initiating and/or maintaining sleep as young adults, which is important given that emotional neglect is one of the most prevalent forms of maltreatment,” the researchers said.

Emotional neglect may contribute to insomnia symptoms by depriving individuals of sense of safety, leading to heightened psychophysiological arousal, they explained.

Emotional neglect, however, did not predict sleep duration. But this could be due to the fact that the researchers relied on the participants to keep track of when they went to bed and woke up in the morning, rather than more objective measures of sleep like a wrist-worn actigraph that monitors physical activity.

“Our measure captured time in bed, which may not be the most accurate representation of time spent asleep,” the wrote.

The study, “Childhood Trauma and Sleep Among Young Adults With a History of Depression: A Daily Diary Study“, was authored by Jessica L. Hamilton, Ryan C. Brindle, Lauren B. Alloy, and Richard T. Liu.

How You Can Improve Your Emotional Well-Being With This One Activity

Author Article

Bad movies have robbed nature of some of its most impressive phenomenons, but I think sunsets might have gotten the worst of it. In film, they’re usually meant to kickstart one of two moments: a moment of mindfulness where the protagonist arrives at a crucial instance of clarity, or the moment when two starry-eyed lovers finally figure out how copulation works. It’s redundant, cheesy and potentially completely accurate.

Several studies have recently come out championing the correlation between observing natural beauty and longevity. Both in the abstract and in more tangible biological ways.

Light Exposure and balance

Researchers have found that early light exposure can help us regulate our metabolism. Additionally, a study conducted by the  University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada disclosed increased instances of weight gain during the winter months,  in part due to the absence of light. Of course, there are plenty of adverse effects associated with overexposure, but the proposed physical profits of sun rays aren’t as frequently discussed.

Sunlight leads to surges of the mood-boosting hormone known as serotonin. When levels of serotonin become too low, you have a much higher risk of developing seasonal affective disorder; a condition more than 20% of Americans suffer from each year. Light therapy is being considered more and more as a method of better managing conditions like insomnia,  seasonal depression and even major non-seasonal depression. 

There is also a freshet of somatic benefits to penciling in a morning or two to take in a sunset. A 2008 study furthered research intended to confirm the major role sun rays play in bone health.  Exposure to the ultraviolet-B radiation produced by the sun causes the skin to create Vitamin D.

“Unlike other essential vitamins, which must be obtained from food, vitamin D can be synthesized in the skin through a photosynthetic reaction triggered by exposure to UVB radiation. The efficiency of production depends on the number of UVB photons that penetrate the skin, a process that can be curtailed by clothing, excess body fat, sunscreen, and the skin pigment melanin,”  says the study’s lead author M. Nathaniel Mead.

According to Felice Gersh, MD watching sunsets can reduce the stress hormone called cortisol. Moreover, it causes surges in melatonin production, a hormone that decreases oxidative stress and inflammation. More than the studied biological effects, setting aside time to appreciate beautiful natural occurrences promotes other healthy activates, like mindfulness and patience. You can also enjoy sunrises while you do other physical activities, like jogging, or biking.

The emotional advantages of observing a sunset have been presented several times, via various mediums over the years and the results seem to speak for themselves.

3 Powerful Ways to Gain Control Over Your Emotions

Author Article

Have you ever said something out of anger that you later regretted? Do you let fear talk you out of taking the risks that could really benefit you? If so, you’re not alone.

Emotions are powerful. Your mood determines how you interact with people, how much money you spend, how you deal with challenges, and how you spend your time.

Gaining control over your emotions will help you become mentally stronger. Fortunately, anyone can become better at regulating their emotions. Just like any other skill, managing your emotions requires practice and dedication.

Experience Uncomfortable Emotions But Don’t Stay Stuck in Them

Managing your emotions isn’t the same as suppressing them. Ignoring your sadness or pretending you don’t feel pain won’t make those emotions go away.

In fact, unaddressed emotional wounds are likely to get worse over time. And there’s a good chance suppressing your feelings will cause you to turn to unhealthy coping skills—like food or alcohol.

Acknowledge your feelings while also recognizing that your emotions don’t have to control you. If you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, you can take control of your mood and turn your day around. If you are angry, you can choose to calm yourself down.

Here are three ways to regulate your emotions in a healthy way:

1. Label Your Emotions

Before you can change how you feel, label the emotion you’re experiencing right now. Are you nervous? Do you feel disappointed? Are you sad?

Keep in mind that anger sometimes masks emotions that feel vulnerable—like shame or embarrassment. So pay close attention to what’s really going on inside of you.

Put a name your emotions. Keep in mind you might feel a whole bunch of emotions at once—like anxious, frustrated, and impatient.

Labeling how you feel can take a lot of the sting out of the emotion. It can also help you take careful note of how those feelings are likely to affect your decisions.

2. Reframe Your Thoughts

Your emotions affect the way you perceive events. If you’re feeling anxious and you get an email from the boss that says she wants to see you right away, you might assume you’re going to get fired.

If you were feeling happy when you got that same email, your first thought might have been that you’re going to be promoted or congratulated on a job well done.

Consider the emotional filter you’re looking at the world through. Then, reframe your thoughts to develop a more realistic view.

If you catch yourself thinking, “This party is going to be so boring,” remind yourself, “It’s up to me to have fun. I can talk to people about interesting subjects and make the best of my time.”

Sometimes, the easiest way to gain a different perspective is to take a step back and ask yourself, “What would I say to a friend who had this problem?” Answering that question will take some of the emotion out of the equation so you can think more rationally.

If you find yourself dwelling on negative things, you may need to change the channel in your brain. A quick physical activity, like going for a walk or cleaning off your desk, can help you stop ruminating.

3. Engage in a Mood Booster

When you’re in a bad mood, you’re likely to engage in activities that keep you in that state of mind. Isolating yourself, mindlessly scrolling through your phone, or complaining to people around you are just a few of the typical “go-to bad mood behaviors” you might indulge in.

But, those things will keep you stuck. You have to take positive action if you want to feel better.

Think of the things you do when you feel happy. Do those things when you’re in a bad mood and you’ll start to feel better.

Here are a few examples of mood boosters:

  • Call a friend to talk about something pleasant (not to continue complaining).
  • Go for a walk.
  • Meditate for a few minutes.
  • Listen to uplifting music.

Keep Practicing Your Emotional Regulation Skills

Managing your emotions is tough at times. And there will likely be a specific emotion—like anger—that sometimes gets the best of you.

But the more time and attention you spend on regulating your emotions, the mentally stronger you’ll become. You’ll gain confidence in your ability to handle discomfort while also knowing that you can make healthy choices that shift your mood.

This article originally appeared on Inc.com.

That Elusive Mood in Your Mind

Author Article

The early 1970s was by all accounts one of the worst periods in American history, but by 1974 the country began to recover from its bad trip. One way to measure the turnaround was a revival of the subject of happiness, an emotion that was for many in short supply over the previous few years. The greater interest in happiness as a dedicated field, and the growing number of experts offering advice on how to achieve it, however, belied the general lack of understanding of the subject. Most people could tell you when they were happy and when they weren’t, but defining or even describing the emotional state was not easy.

“Everyone is sure that happiness is desirable,” wrote Paul Cameron in Psychology Today in 1974, “but no one seems to know exactly what it is.” A good number of social scientists believed that being happy in one form or another was our most fundamental drive, making it all the more puzzling why it was so difficult to put the experience into words. Beliefs about the distribution of happiness in the United States remained heavily informed by cultural stereotypes and prejudices. Happiness was popularly considered to be more prevalent among young, male, white, affluent, and non-handicapped Americans, a reflection of deeply embedded biases regarding age, gender, race, class, and physical and mental ability. But were any of these generalizations true? More researchers were beginning to ask, thinking there was much more work that had to be done given how central happiness was to the human, and especially American, experience.

Over the next few years, a flood of research devoted specifically to happiness, some of it scientifically grounded and some of it considerably less so, poured forth. Surveys, questionnaires, and polls peppered popular magazines in the latter 1970s as researchers tried to determine which Americans were happier than others and why. Happiness was clearly riding on the still booming self-help movement, in which many Americans were expending much time, energy, and money. At no previous time in the nation’s history had there been such a focus on the individual and such a profound belief that one could and should claim his or her inalienable right to happiness. “Americans seek happiness with a fierce determination that is matched only by our passion for privacy and independence,” wrote the editors of Psychology Today in 1975, defining the emotional state as “an unflagging, unsagging state of mind.” Driven in part by baby boomers’ competitive ethos and urge to succeed in all aspects of their lives, there appeared to be higher expectations for fulfillment in both one’s career and relationships. Work and play each offered much opportunity for happiness, the media told Americans, the challenge of course being how to find it.

Putting their money where their mouth was, the editors of Psychology Today decided to collaborate with the psychology department at Columbia University to learn what made Americans happy. By asking its readers “what happiness means to you” — specifically, “when you feel it, what you think will bring it, why you do or don’t have it, and how it relates to personality and past,” the magazine’s staff was confident that the boundaries of the subject would be significantly expanded. A questionnaire consisting of no less than 123 questions developed by two Columbia professors along with nine graduate students was included in the October 1975 issue, with readers asked to anonymously mail their completed surveys to the university’s psychology department. A full report of the results would be published in a future issue, the editors told readers, adding, “Your candid and thoughtful replies will help us to understand what the pursuit of happiness is all about.”

Ten months later, Psychology Today delivered on its promise. More than 52,000 readers ranging in age from 15 to 95 had completed and returned the magazine’s questionnaire, this itself an indication of the significance of happiness in Americans’ everyday life. Happiness was “that elusive mood in your mind, a delicate balance between what you wanted in life and what you got,” according to Phillip Shaver and Jonathan Freedman, the professors who had led the survey.  Interestingly, most people who took the time to fill out the six-page questionnaire, stick it in an envelope with a 10-cent stamp, and pop it into a mailbox fell into two very different groups: Happiness was one group’s normal condition, with sadness or anguish a rare interruption of their positive state of mind. For others, however, the very opposite was true, with sorrow and struggle the norm. Dividing respondents into two polarized groups was a simple but revealing means of breaking down what was by all accounts a complex subject. There were happy and unhappy people, this research suggested, with all kinds of factors including one’s childhood, relationships, job, and spirituality contributing to which group one fell into.

Within this overarching framework of the results of the 1975 Psychology Today study were more detailed insights into the dynamics of happiness in America. (The editors made it clear that the readers of their magazine were younger, more affluent, better educated, and more liberal than the average American, and that respondents were likely to be more interested in the subject than others.) Still, there were key findings related to happiness that went far beyond the splitting of the population into two segments: “We discovered that happiness is in the head, not the wallet,” Shaver and Freedman wrote, meaning that making more money in order to buy more, or more expensive, things was not a good way to become happier.

Beyond concluding that happiness was not for sale, the professors discovered a number of other surprising findings, such as that unhappy children typically became happy adults, sexual satisfaction was a function of quality versus quantity, and that there was no significant difference in the level of happiness between atheists and the religious, homosexuals and heterosexuals, and urbanites and country folk. Most important, working towards a recognizable, achievable goal was an excellent path to finding happiness, with the taking of progressive, incremental steps far more fulfilling than aspiring to some externally defined measure of success. “Happiness has less to do with what you have than with what you want,” the pair added, recommending that those striving to be happy set their own standards versus pursuing those established by others.

What Happens When You Embrace Dark Emotions

Author Article

When I was 15, my mother died in a car accident. Not knowing how to deal with the enormity of my loss and grief, I threw myself into homework and activities. I never missed a day of school and tried to control everything in my life. This strategy succeeded in some ways—I was able to get good grades, for example. But the inner cost of pushing away my grief and sadness showed up in other ways. I became anxious around things I couldn’t control, like unexpected changes in plans and minor injuries. And as I grew older, I started to harbor irrational worries, such as the fear of exposing my baby in utero to toxic fumes when walking past a strange smell. It was not until later, after my first child was born, that I was able to fully grieve the loss of my mother with the help of a therapist and feel all of the emotions I had spent so many years trying to ward off. As I write in my new book, “Dancing on the Tightrope,” the desire to avoid what’s unpleasant and seek what’s pleasant is part of human nature. But avoiding unpleasant emotions—rather than accepting them—only increases our psychological distress, inflexibility, anxiety, and depression, diminishing our well-being.

Dancing on the Tightrope: Transcending the Habits of Your Mind and Awakening to Your Fullest Life” (Wellbridge Books, 2018, 172 pages)

Research suggests that when we turn toward our cravings, we’re less likely to engage in addictive behaviors. When we turn toward our physical pain, we’re less likely to be trapped in cycles of chronic pain. When we turn toward our sadness, we’re less likely to be stuck in depression. And, when we turn toward our anxiety, we’re less likely to be paralyzed by it and can find it easier to bear.

Learning to embrace dark emotions not only reduced my anxiety but also gave me the ability to experience the joys of life more fully and trust in my ability to handle life’s challenges. As a therapist, I have also seen tremendous healing with my patients as they have learned to embrace their difficult emotions.

If we want to live more fully and be our most authentic selves, we need to turn toward our pain, not try to suppress it. But what can help us get there? The tools of mindful attention, self-compassion, and acceptance—which all come together in a practice I call “The Door.”

To do this practice yourself, make sure to start with emotions that aren’t too intense. You might want to work with a skilled therapist, especially for more intense emotions. Here’s what The Door involves.

Step 1: Develop a Willingness to Open the Door

Imagine that you’re opening the door and welcoming your emotions to come and have a seat somewhere in the room. You can picture this seat as close to or as far away from you as you like. From this perspective, you can take a gentle and curious look at what is there.

Often people will picture their emotions as having some kind of color, shape, or form. Sometimes they envision their emotions as cartoon characters or as younger parts of themselves. Part of the practice is simply to accept whatever arrives.

This is a new experience for most people. Who wants to let anxiety in the door? Who wants to welcome in sadness or anger? But when we let in whatever arrives and see it from a bit of a distance, we can take a curious look and explore what is there.

Step 2: Take a Curious Look at Whatever Walks in the Door

Mindfully observing what we’re feeling can help us cope with whatever is before us. It can be useful to name our feelings—”Oh, that’s hurt; that’s jealousy; that’s anger”—because, as simple as this sounds, we often don’t pay attention to the nuances of what we’re feeling. Consequently, important information gets lost along the way. Labeling our distressing emotions gives us a way of validating our inner experience, but it has the added benefit of dialing down their intensity.

It can also be beneficial to see our emotional “visitors” as temporary guests. Adding the phrase “in this moment” to a statement like “I am feeling stress, anger, or hurt” can help us be with what is there without feeling overwhelmed. Other things you might say to yourself include:

  • Can I allow myself to notice how this is showing up in my body and in my thoughts?
  • If this feeling or part of me could talk, what might it say?
  • What might it want or need?

Being curious rather than fearful or rejecting your emotions provides a better lens for understanding them.

Step 3: Give Yourself the Gift of Compassion

Besides pushing away uncomfortable feelings, many of us have been conditioned to judge our emotions in negative ways. We’ve learned that if we show sadness, it’s a sign of weakness, that we’re a bad person if we feel anger or jealousy, and that we should “move on” when we experience loss. When we come face-to-face with difficult emotions, we often tell ourselves to buck up and stop being silly or that there’s something wrong with us.

When we practice mindfulness in combination with self-kindness and a recognition of our common humanity—the fact that we all suffer as human beings—we cultivate self-compassion, a quality that’s been linked to psychological well-being.

To practice self-compassion, imagine sitting with a good friend who is suffering and think about how you might extend a gesture of compassion. What would your body language be like? How might you listen? What sensations would you feel around your heart?

Now picture that person extending compassion towards you. What might they say or do? What words would you find comforting or soothing?

Chances are, they wouldn’t be telling you to cut it out or that you shouldn’t be feeling this way. They might say, “That sounds really hard. I’m here for you.” Or perhaps they would simply extend a hand.

When we can learn to sit mindfully with our own emotions and bring compassion to whatever we’re experiencing, it’s as if we have become that caring friend, sitting with ourselves. Learning to be there for ourselves, through the positive moments—and the painful ones—can be tremendously healing.

While embracing our dark emotions takes courage and practice, using The Door technique allows us to open to a gift on the other side. Each time we practice being with our difficult emotions, we grow inner resources, learn to trust in our capacity to handle our experiences, develop resilience to move through life’s challenges, and find ways to pursue what truly matters. Each of us has the power to face what is hard if we only open the door.

Beth Kurland is a clinical psychologist, public speaker, and author of three books, including “Dancing on the Tightrope: Transcending the Habits of Your Mind and Awakening to Your Fullest Life,” from which this essay was adapted. This article was republished from Healthline.com

Here’s How Meditation Can Help With Loneliness & Acceptance Of Your Emotions, According To Science

Author Article

Loneliness is something that everyone experiences at one point or another, but of course, just because it’s common, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to deal with. Whether you’re living in a brand new city away from your hometown, or you landed a job that requires you to work remotely instead of in an office, that feeling of being alone can be overwhelming at times. If you’re struggling with these emotions yourself, it might comfort you to know that meditation can help with loneliness, according to the results of a new study.

For the study, The New York Times reports, researchers gathered 153 adults who described themselves as “stressed out” (which, per the news outlet, was meant to distract the participants from the real focus of the study, i.e. loneliness). To establish a baseline of where the participants were at in terms of their mindset at the beginning of the study, the researchers asked them to fill out a survey that included questions about their interactions with others, their social networks, and whether they regularly deal with any feelings of loneliness.

Additionally, the researchers monitored the participants in real time over a period of three days by texting them questions about “what they were doing and with whom,” according to The New York Times — you know, kind of like how your parents would always ask you to tell them what you were doing with your friends when you were in middle school, except, hopefully less lame?

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After those baseline measures, the participants were given an app to use on their phone, and the researchers randomly divided the volunteers into three groups: In one group, the app gave the participants some general tips for dealing with stress. In another group, the app taught the volunteers about mindfulness and the practice of “paying close attention to the moment and focusing on breathing and other sensations,” per The New York Times. In the third group, the app taught the participants the same mindfulness techniques as the second group, with additional instructions to “take note of and say ‘yes’ aloud to all sensations,” according to the news outlet. For instance, if a participant noticed that they could physically feel their tongue on the roof of their mouth, or even if they mentally noticed a feeling of sadness, they would then have to say “yes” out loud. The researchers called this approach to mindfulness “equanimity.”

Each group was told to use the app for 20 minutes, then practice their respective techniques for another 10 minutes on their own, every day for two weeks, per The New York Times. To measure any differences between the participants’ baseline mindset and how they felt after using the mindfulness strategies for a couple weeks, the researchers gave them the same survey questions, as well as the same three-day text monitoring.

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The results of the study, which have been published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, showed that the general stress management and mindfulness techniques had little to no effect on the participants who practiced them — but here’s where things got really interesting: According to The New York Times, the participants who practiced “equanimity” meditation were “measurably more sociable,” engaged in “several more interactions with people that lasted at least a few minutes,” and their survey responses showed “a decline in their feelings of loneliness.”

The researchers told The New York Times that they believe the equanimity aspect of meditation was “key” in making a difference in participants’ feelings of loneliness. And it kind of makes sense when you think about it, right? As the researchers wrote in the abstract of their study, developing an “orientation of acceptance toward present-moment experiences” — even when those present-moment experiences are uncomfortable or difficult to accept — can make a huge difference in dealing with feelings of loneliness. In other words, actively accepting negativity when it comes to you, rather than squashing it down, pretending it doesn’t exist, or worse, judging yourself for having those feelings in the first place, seems to be an effective way to deal with these emotions overall.

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Counselor and relationship expert David Bennett (who was not involved in the study) says that meditation in general can help with “emotion regulation.” He tells Elite Daily in an email, “It can help you avoid the emotional ups and downs that come from reacting to the various events in your daily life.”

In a sense, Bennett explains, meditation can help to ground you in “something deeper than just feelings that come and go,” and being grounded can not only help you feel less lonely, it can help you take steps toward avoiding loneliness — like reaching out to a friend you haven’t spoken to in awhile to meet for coffee, or asking a co-worker you get along with if they’d like to join you for happy hour drinks.

Again, loneliness is something that everyone deals with, so don’t be ashamed if you’re struggling with it. Consider practicing this type of acceptance meditation the next time these feelings overwhelm you, and remember, if you need a little extra help, it’s always OK to touch base with a professional about what you’re going through.

4 Traits That Determine Just How Emotionally Intelligent You Are

Author Article

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Emotional intelligence can mean the difference between behaving in a socially acceptable way and being considered to be way out of line. While most people will have heard of emotional intelligence, not many people really know how to spot it — in themselves or in others.

Emotional intelligence is essentially the way you perceive, understand, express, and manage emotions. And it’s important because the more you understand these aspects of yourself, the better your mental health and social behavior will be.

It might be these are things you do without even really thinking — which can be the case for a lot of people. Or it might be that these are skills you know you need to work on.

Either way, improved emotional intelligence can be very useful in all sorts of circumstances — be it in work, at home, in school, or even when you’re just socializing with your friends.

So if you want to know if you’re emotionally intelligent, simply check the list below.

1. You Think About Your Reactions

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Think first.

Emotional intelligence can mean the difference between a good reaction and a bad reaction to circumstances. Emotions can contain important information that can be useful to personal and social functioning — but sometimes these emotions can also overwhelm us, and make us act in ways we would rather not.

People who lack emotional intelligence are more likely to just react, without giving themselves the time to weigh up the pros and cons of a situation and really think things through.

People who are less able to regulate their negative feelings are also more likely to have difficulty functioning socially — which can exacerbate depressive feelings.

People with major depression have been shown to have difficulties understanding and managing their emotions. And research has also shown that more depressive symptoms are present in people with lower emotional intelligence — even if they are not clinically depressed.

2. You See Situations as a Challenge

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People with high emotional intelligence don’t give up.

If you are able to recognize negative emotions in yourself and see difficult situations as a challenge — focusing on the positives and persevering — chances are that you’ve got high emotional intelligence.

Imagine for a moment you lost your job. An emotionally intelligent person might perceive their emotions as cues to take action, both to deal with the challenges and to control their thoughts and feelings.

But someone with poor emotional skills might ruminate on their job loss, come to think of themselves as hopelessly unemployable, and spiral into depression.

3. You Can Modify Your Emotions

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Emotionally intelligent people can regulate their emotions.

Of course, there are times when your feelings can get the better of you, but if you are an emotionally intelligent person, it is likely that when this happens, you have the skills needed to modify your emotions.

For example, while average levels of anxiety can improve cognitive performance — probably by increasing focus and motivation — too much anxiety can block cognitive achievement.

So knowing how to find the sweet spot between too much and too little anxiety can be a useful tool.

It is clear that moderation is the key when it comes to managing our emotions. Emotionally intelligent people know this and have the skills to modify their emotions appropriately.

And this is probably why emotional intelligence has been shown to be related to lower levels of anxiety.

4. You Can Put Yourself in Other People’s Shoes

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Emotions are not fixed.

If you are able to extend these skills beyond your own personal functioning, then that’s another sign that you have high levels of emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence can be particularly important in workplaces that require heavy “emotional labor” — where workers must manage their emotions according to organizational rules.

This can include customer service jobs, where workers may need to sympathize with customers — despite the fact that customers may be yelling at them.

This is why workplace emotional intelligence training is now common — with the most effective training focusing on management and expression of emotions, which are directly linked to communication and job performance.

It’s also worth pointing out that emotional intelligence is a cognitive ability that can improve across your lifespan. So if you haven’t recognized much of yourself in the traits listed above, fear not, there’s still time for you to work on your emotional intelligence.


This article was originally published on The Conversation by Jose M. Mestre and Kimberly A. Barchard. Read the original article here.

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