Better Mind

3 Ways to navigate through challenging emotions

3 Ways to navigate through challenging emotions

In moments of fear and uncertainty, we may instinctively react in unexpected ways. Facing fear head-on allows us to understand its roots and release the struggle against it. Often, beneath the turmoil of challenging emotions lies sadness and the realization that control is elusive.

Despite the situation remaining unchanged, confronting fear leads to a release of its grip, replaced by acceptance of life’s uncertainties. This acceptance breeds courage, enabling us to move forward with greater ease and trust in our resilience.

The rise of unpleasant and challenging emotions

Unpleasant and challenging emotions often stem from the disparity between reality and our desires. Our evolutionary instincts drive us to seek pleasure and avoid pain, with our autonomic nervous system triggering protective responses to perceived threats.

While this response is beneficial for physical dangers, it can be less helpful for internal challenges like fear and sadness. Our instinctive reaction is often to resist or suppress these challenging emotions, hindering our ability to address modern-day difficulties effectively. When stuck in survival mode, we lose access to valuable resources and prolong our suffering.

Enter your newer operating system

Our innate drive for survival coexists with a profound need for connection and growth. When we feel safe and regulated, our bodies prioritize healing and development. Engaging our social system fosters empathy, creativity, and resilience, empowering us to confront challenges with greater ease.

Rather than resisting or being overwhelmed by unpleasant emotions, we can shift our perspective to invite a sense of safety, unlocking the potential of our evolved coping mechanisms.

Consider these three perspectives to potentially alter your viewpoint when faced with challenging emotions.

01. The anchor view

When facing turbulent emotions, liken it to swimming in a stormy sea versus finding refuge by holding onto a stable boat anchor in the harbor. Steadying our nervous system, as advocated by Deb Dana, can shift us away from survival mode and toward our newer operating system, allowing clearer thinking and self-care amidst struggles.

To anchor yourself, practice the ABC technique: Acknowledge, accept, and allow your challenging emotions, enhancing emotional regulation.

Extra – How to bring balance to your nervous system

Various methods exist, and individuals may find what suits them best at the time. Mindful breathing, such as deep, slow, equal-length breaths, or elongating exhalations, can enhance regulatory energy. Relaxing muscles, adopting good posture, and practicing mindful movement can aid in this process.

‘See’ what is required. After pausing to shift away from survival mode and reconnect with our evolved coping mechanisms, we gain clarity to discern wise courses of action.

02. The child view

Children naturally possess a curiosity and sense of exploration, evident in their fascination with simple objects. Unlike adults, they lack our judgments and conditioning, finding wonder in things we might overlook.

In contrast to our tendency to avoid unpleasant emotions, adopting the perspective of a child can help us confront them with curiosity, fostering mindful awareness and resilience. To embrace this childlike approach:

  • Stop and pause when challenging emotions arise.
  • Shift your awareness from your thoughts to your body, exploring physical sensations.
  • Approach your inner experience with curiosity, observing how your nervous system reacts and what your emotions communicate.
  • Practice with milder emotions like stress or frustration, seeking professional guidance for stronger ones if needed.
  • Reflect on your reactions with curiosity, opening up new possibilities for responding and behaving.

By cultivating curiosity akin to a child’s perspective, we unlock fresh ways of navigating our emotions and choices.

03. The compassionate parent view

Picture a child upset over a disappointment, with three possible parental responses: ignoring, scolding, or comforting. The comforting response typically provides the most comfort. Similarly, when facing our own challenging emotions, we often treat ourselves harshly rather than with compassion.

Learning to approach our suffering with self-compassion can feel unfamiliar. Christopher Germer and Kristen Neff offer a course on Mindful Self-Compassion to develop this skill. Rather than trying to eliminate discomfort, consider inviting inner qualities to sit alongside it, fostering ease.

Extra – The bathtub exercise

Visualize yourself immersed in a bathtub, filling it with the comfort you crave—care, kindness, compassion, acceptance, validation, encouragement, or any other nurturing emotion. Recall a moment when you experienced this feeling, allowing it to envelop your mind and body.

As you soak in the tub, envision the painful aspects of yourself being cradled and comforted. Take a moment to fully embrace this sensation.

3 Ways to navigate through challenging emotions conclusion

Mastering the techniques of shifting your perspective with the anchor view, child view, and compassionate parent view won’t eradicate life’s inevitable inner storms. However, it will enable you to tap into your inner reservoir of strength and resilience, fostering a sense of ease and even flourishing amidst life’s trials with its challenging emotions.