Last week was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. There were moments when I felt extraordinary highs and others when I was in such a foul mood and struggled to explain why. I am a person who holds onto things. Even if something happened months ago, if I have a fleeting moment that I think about it the original emotions will flood back.
From early on in the week I was feeling stress. I knew that I had a number of assessments due and that end of semester was near. I didn’t know how everything could possibly get done on time. I also had a lot of little voices going on in my head from some comments that had been made to me a few days before by people close to me. I felt annoyed, frustrated and that I just wanted my head to stop spinning for a minute so I could think straight.
When I am feeling that way I notice some patterns of behaviour that always seem to emerge:
I crave isolation.
I eat…a lot (and then regret it not long after).
I train ridiculously hard.
I don’t want people interrupting my routine (seriously I am an angry bear if you do).
Positive body image is no longer a thing.
I can’t sleep well (and my dreams are messed up).
These actions don’t benefit me and they definitely don’t do anything for the people that surround me.
“Our minds may be built to look for negative information and to hold onto it, but we can also retrain our minds if we put some effort in and start to see that the glass may be a little more full than we initially thought.” – Alison Ledgerwood.
At home last week I was really struggling. I was on edge and just could not understand what had upset me so much. Surely it had to be more than just assignments and a couple of nasty comments. On Tuesday night I got a DM from the beautiful Lola Berry inviting me to a yoga class to celebrate the release of her new book, “The Yoga Body.” I was sitting on the couch watching Masterchef when I got the message. At first I felt a sense of reluctance to go – “what about your assignments, there is no way you will have time, when will you train, what will you wear…” But I got over myself and decided to go. Usually yoga makes me feel incredible and I thought it could be just what I needed to shake my mood.
The room it took place in was small and had four white walls. There were white transparent curtains on the windows that faced out onto busy High Street and black mats laid out all across the floor. I got a buzz of excitement when I saw Lola. She is by far one of the most raw, genuine and inspirational women I have ever met. Lola took us through a forty-minute heart opening practice. I felt some serious rushes of energy going around me. I went home quite bubbly but when I actually sat down to do my work that happy feeling disappeared and the feelings of frustration and annoyance returned with added fire.
For me, yoga always seems to bring out all my emotions and make me face things I have been avoiding. It had been a long time since I had felt this vulnerable and heavy after a practice. It really did draw out the root of those negative feelings and I wasn’t ready for them. Perhaps on some level I was so happy after the practice because I was immediately distracted (hello there was raw lemon cheesecake to be had) but now that I knew what was wrong I had to do something about it…. But I didn’t.
I continued along in my bad mood (much to the dismay of those who I live with) and didn’t shake it. The next day I overslept, missed my gym session, messed up my makeup (liquid eyeliner fails), missed my tram and was wet from the rain all before seven o’clock in the morning. I honestly believe that was my karma. At that point I knew I had to do something. On the way to uni I stood in silence. I reflected on the way I felt and really acknowledged why I felt that way and what I could do about it. By the time I came up with my plan and took the necessary means to execute it I arrived at uni.
At first I was quiet and reserved just processing my thoughts but as the class went on I looked at my beautiful friends and relaxed. During the break I talked to the girls about how I had been feeling and what had been bothering me. I told them how I refused to accept the way I felt and that it was much easier to sit in isolation then actually talk about what was making me upset. They listened attentively and told me I wasn’t alone and that they sometimes get the same way.
I always feel so guilty for the moods I get in. Sometimes I wish I could be unapologetically upset and honest sooner so I don’t hold on to the negative emotions. I continue to bottle feelings, even when I know I shouldn’t, to spare the feelings of others when really they would probably appreciate my honesty. I am at a point in my own journey of personal development that I can acknowledge my feelings. I know when I am happy and when I am upset. I have come to learn that negative emotions aren’t necessarily a bad thing and I shouldn’t be made to feel bad about the way that I feel.
Dr Susan David is a Harvard Medical School psychologist that specialises in emotional agility. This is the process of recognising our negative emotions and thoughts and holding them loosely. It isn’t about ignoring them, it is about facing them with courage and compassion and moving past them. She says that we have a tendency as people to label ourselves as our emotions, “I am sad”, “I am angry” which is a mode of thinking that leads us to believe that those fleeting feelings are permanent and can’t be changed. She suggests that instead of labelling ourselves we should say, “I am noticing that I am feeling sad” or “I am noticing that I am feeling angry” and then use these phrases as a starting point to understand why we feel that way and what triggered it.
“When you feel a strong, tough emotion, don't race for the emotional exits. Learn its contours, show up to the journal of your hearts. What is the emotion telling you?” – Dr Susan David.
Okay so if you are anything like me you want some steps of how to work through your negative emotions. Lucky for us Dr David shared four key concepts. I transformed the concepts into four steps that can be followed when our emotions are negative, I hope it will help you.
Embrace your emotion – This means not just creating an illusion to yourself and others of “positive thinking.” Really feel the negative emotion and approach it gently with curiosity and kindness.
Look at the emotion from the outside – Observe your pattern of thinking, consider what brought it on. Take a moment to tell yourself that the feeling isn’t permanent but that it is present and that you need to listen to it and what it is telling you.
Understand what value the emotion is talking to – It can be easy to overreact about something small that happened and not know why. Often times it is because the issue sits much deeper. For me I know they go to the way I think about myself and the things that I value. Maybe the emotion is a sign that you need to make some changes and voice how you feel about something.
Move on – Taking into consideration what you have learnt about the emotion and why it arose, decide that you appreciate the emotional experience and that you now wish to move on stronger and more resilient.
Every day we are going to be confronted with things that don’t sit well with us. We will face challenges at work, in relationships, within our families and our community. It is important to acknowledge that it is okay to not feel okay BUT we then need to take it one step further and work out why we feel the way we do.
Scientific research has demonstrated that those who are willing to listen and accept their emotions will be resilient, thrive in their life and be able to really feel true and authentic happiness. It is our emotions that show us what we truly care about, that is why if something upsets you or makes you really happy we recognise those feelings and what they are connected to in a greater sense. We need to take the time to sit with how we feel and understand WHY we feel that way.
On Friday morning I decided to do a restorative yoga practice. The title of the practice was “I release.” Very powerful. The practice took me through a sequence of twists to release negative energy. During the practice I kept repeating the mantra “I release that which does not serve me.” It felt amazing. I honestly felt that the negative emotion from the week was gone. I knew the reason why I felt the way I did and moved past it. I am not perfect and who is to say that in a few weeks I won’t feel the slum again but I know now that I have the tools I need to really work through them and not just ignore them like they are small and insignificant.
“Be thankful for your life, spend time in nature, breathe deeply, let go of your worries, forgive yourself and others, and build your life around what you love.” – Lola Berry.