When we're not feeling like ourselves, it can seem like we're shrouded exclusively in the negative ones. Almost automatically, the first reaction when these cascade upon us can be to try to switch them off - Disconnect, pull the plug, make them stop.
We attempt to turn a deaf ear to them. To do this, we can turn to food, alcohol, drugs, exercise or whatever seemingly works to make them shut up; to stop them screaming in our ear, bubbling up beneath the surface - taking over. They don't feel right, we don't know what to do with them so we want to numb them out.
But that simply doesn't work, because we can't do it selectively.
'We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions we also numb the positive emotions', Brené Brown.
See, they're not the problem. The problem is thinking that we know better than them, that we don't need or have time for them. The problem is that we don't know how to react to them or with them. We're shirking away from responding to them, engaging with and learning from them. That's where the problem kicks in.
Emotions make us vulnerable and crucially, they make us human. They don't make us weak, out of control or pathetic. In fact they're essential for connection, for fulfilling our needs, for gaining guidance in our growth. They allow us to be empathetic and real.
When you think about it, it seems strange to want to numb something that comes so naturally. But we do it without even realising in so many other ways too. We suppress hunger, suppress our passions, suppress our voices, suppress our exhaustion, act like we're 'fine'. We are not perfect and we are not robots and we definitely don't know better than our body, so we need to stop acting as if we do.
On the back of a week of being a moody cow, I thought it fitting to explore this topic and what I've learnt. So here's what I've got:
1. Visitation Rights
'Feelings are just visitors, let them come and let them go'. Emotions are signals, they're not permanent states of being or a reflection of who we are. They let us know that we need something and once we respond accordingly they'll likely change. When I'm being grumpy and lashing out, it's not something that's going to last forever (luckily for everyone around me!) But it's an indication that I might be tired or lonely or frustrated.
We need to be patient with ourselves when emotions visit and realise that it's not a life sentence as a sad, angry grump but more just a little nudge to look after something within ourselves. This doesn't mean we have to let them take over, but we need to decide what we're going to do with them, how long do we want them to stay and how are we going to interact with what they're bringing us.
Open up to conversing with what you're feeling. Instead of ignoring them and hoping they go away or letting them do all the talking, actually notice them and identify what it is they're trying to say. I've definitely had experiences of either attempting to numb the mood, letting the mood entirely consume me or feeling guilty because 'I shouldn't be feeling this way'.
If there's one thing I've benefited from learning, it's that ignoring what my body is trying to tell me, is never helpful. We're not separate, we need to give ourselves the privilege of being fully connected - mind and body together. Trying to live as body vs 'intellect', is uncomfortable, unnatural and messy. The reality is that we're on the same team, communicating our needs and aiming to satiate them accordingly. So open up the conversation, what is this uncomfortable mood trying to tell you? What do you need?
3. Find your Solutions
In the same ways that emotions may have different triggers than they had in the past, the way we deal with them can undergo some fine-tuning too. I'd encourage trying to find the ways that best suit you in feeling better. Discover ways that effectively change your emotional state. Maybe it's a punching a punching bag, blaring music, going to the bottle bank, going for a walk, talking to someone, watching a movie, writing, singing at the top of your lungs, creating something, listening to something soothing, watching comedy. The list is endless and individual and it's up to us to find ways to navigate our own emotions.
It's good to remember too that emotions can be a joy as well as a challenge, so enjoy the happiness, the excitement and all the others that bring a smile to your face. Getting to experience the ones we like means having to go through the ones we don't, it gives a whole experience, a human experience and allows us appreciate the smiles and laughter, without resenting the tears.
We might just have to accept that they won't always make perfect sense to us, they could be changeable and we may find it tough to keep up. But sometimes we need to stop asking why and just ask what can we do about it? Take the power back and just accept that this is how we feel and we're going to change that into a feeling that we actually want.
Learn to work with, instead of against yourself :)