Dealing with emotions

Emotions can be overwhelming — both positively and negatively. Mindfulness, acceptance, self-care, and exercise can help you deal with them.

Veröffentlicht am

1.3.2024

Zuletzt aktualisiert am

7.6.2024

Emotions are everyday companions. They can inspire us when we are happy, proud or grateful. They can also cause us distress when we are anxious or grieving. Dealing with emotions and understanding emotions can help us to sort out our own feelings.

Coping with emotions is an important part of everyday life and can be done in different ways.

Mindfulness

Emotional mindfulness is the ability to focus consciously and without judgement on one's own emotions. It involves the willingness to perceive, acknowledge and accept one's own feelings without judging or rejecting them. Attention is focused on the present moment and one's own emotional state.

Emotional mindfulness can help to strengthen the ability to regulate emotions, improve interpersonal relationships and promote our general well-being.

The process of emotional mindfulness comprises five steps:

  1. Awareness:
    Be aware of what is going on inside of you by observing your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations and write them down if necessary.
  2. Acknowledgment:
    Accept your emotions without judgment and acknowledge that they are part of your human experience. Allow yourself to feel your emotions without suppressing or repressing them.
  3. Let go:
    Let your emotions come and go without holding on to them or letting them carry you away. Allow them to unfold naturally as you focus on the present moment.
  4. Self-compassion:
    Be compassionate with yourself when you are experiencing difficult emotions. Recognize that it is normal to feel uncomfortable and treat yourself with kindness and understanding.
  5. Reaction:
    Consciously choose how to respond to your emotions rather than acting impulsively. Think about how you can deal constructively with your emotions to fulfill your needs and achieve your goals.

Acceptance

The concept of acceptance is closely related to emotional mindfulness. It refers to the willingness to accept reality as it is, including one's feelings, thoughts and experiences. Acceptance means not resisting unpleasant or difficult emotions or trying to change them. Instead, an attempt is made to accept them as part of the present state. By accepting emotions, one can learn to live with them, to regulate them in a healthy way instead of fighting or suppressing them.

People often try to categorize emotions into “good” and “bad”, “desirable” and “avoidable”. This belief system makes it difficult to allow emotions at all. Emotions such as fear, anger or sadness do not feel good in the acute moment, i.e. at the peak of the “emotional wave”. However, these emotions guide our behavior: What am I afraid of? How do I fight or escape the fear? Why am I sad? Why am I angry? Am I overwhelmed or desperate? Do I perhaps just need a break to gain some distance? If emotions are triggered in situations that you have little control over, acceptance is a way to cope with them.

Acceptance includes

  1. recognizing and acknowledging emotions
  2. to express emotions in order to acknowlege them: “I am angry and frustrated that my condition restricts me so much and that I cannot live as I did before”
  3. pay attention to your emotions:

What if, for example, you met for a coffee with your anger and frustration and asked it where it came from, what it wanted to tell you? See it as a part of you that is just asking for an open ear and needs support. You can close your eyes and imagine how the “anger and frustration” are sitting in front of you. What do they look like? What color are they? Do they have a face? A shape? Then you can ask it: “What's wrong?” “What do you need right now?” “Can I support you?” Imagine that this emotion is like a child who comes to you with a request. Take your time, meet it at the same level. Listen to them and maybe embrace them.

This form of playful acceptance is a good starting point for coping with emotions! It teaches you to allow them to be there and at the same time gain enough distance from them (if you drink coffee with your anger or hug it, you can't be it at the same time). These techniques can also be found in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Emotion regulation

The regulation of emotions refers to the ability to consciously recognize, understand and influence emotions. It aims to enable appropriate reactions in various situations. This includes, for example, showing gratitude by saying “thank you” when a stranger holds the door open for you or providing security to a child who is afraid of the dark.

Emotion regulation therefore aims to deal with emotions in a controlled and regulating way that is constructive and leads to a positive outcome.

Emotion regulation includes various strategies and techniques that are used to influence the intensity, duration and expression of emotions. These include:

  1. Awareness of emotions
    The ability to consciously perceive and identify one's emotions, including the recognition of physical sensations, thoughts and behaviors associated with specific emotions.
  2. Understanding of emotions
    The ability to understand causes and triggers of emotions and interpret their meaning, including recognizing emotional triggers (e.g., specific events, situations, thoughts).
  3. Choosing coping mechanisms
    The ability to select appropriate coping mechanisms to deal with emotions, e.g. relaxation exercises, distraction or problem solving.
  4. Modulation of emotions
    The ability to influence the intensity and duration of emotions. This includes slowing down or stopping strong emotions and enhancing or maintaining pleasant emotions.
  5. Adaptation of emotional expression
    The ability to regulate the expression of emotions appropriately.

Self-care

Self-care describes the conscious and active cultivation of one's own well-being on a physical, emotional, mental and possibly spiritual level. Self-care means treating yourself with compassion, respect and care and taking your own individual needs seriously. It is important to reduce stress and promote and maintain health.

Aspects of self-care include

  • Physical self-care, which focuses on physical health. This includes a well-balanced nutrition, regular exercise, sufficient sleep and adequate medical care.
  • Emotional self-care, which focuses on acknowledgment, acceptance and expression of one's emotions and includes seeking support when needed. It can also include establishing boundaries in interpersonal relationships and avoiding stress.
  • Mental self-care, which includes actions to promote mental health, such as learning new things, reading inspiring books, solving puzzles or practicing meditation or mindfulness.
  • Social self-care, which focuses on nurturing interpersonal relationships and maintaining social contact. Sharing feelings and experiences with trusted people is also part of social self-care.
  • Spiritual self-care, which involves nurturing one's personal belief system. These include meditation, prayer, connection to nature or other spiritual activities.

Exercise & physical activities

Physical activity can help to reduce stress and improve the mood. Exercise, yoga, dancing or walks in nature can help to regulate emotions and improve well-being.

Professional support

If dealing with emotions is difficult or emotions cannot be understood and/or regulated, it is advisable to seek help from professionals like therapists, counselors or psychologists. They can help to develop effective coping mechanisms and overcome deeper emotional challenges.

It is important to understand that dealing with emotions is an individual journey that requires time, patience and practice. By exploring and applying different coping mechanisms, you can learn to regulate your emotions in a healthy and constructive way and create a more fulfilling life.

[1] Weinstein N., Brown KW, Ryan RM: A multi-method examination of the effects of mindfulness on stress attribution, coping, and emotional well-being. J of Research in Personality, Volume 43, Issue 3, 2009, pp 374-385, ISSN 0092-6566, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2008.12.008.

[2] Luberto CM, Cotton S, McLeish AC. et al. Mindfulness Skills and Emotion Regulation: the Mediating Role of Coping Self-Efficacy. Mindfulness 5, 373—380 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-012-0190-6

[3] Keng, S.-L., & Tong, E.M.W. (2016). Riding the Tide of Emotions with Mindfulness: Mindfulness, Affect Dynamics, and the Mediating Role of Coping. Emotion, 16(5), 706—718. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000165

[4] Alberts, H.J.E.M., Schneider, F., & Martijn, C. (2012). Dealing efficiently with emotions: Acceptance-based coping with negative emotions requires fewer resources than suppression. Cognition and Emotion, 26(5), 863-870. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2011.625402