Difficult emotions: a guide to freedom

Feelings are an essential part of being human and enrich our lives — like falling in love or enjoying the beauty of a spring morning. They can also protect us from harm — like expressing anger when it’s appropriate. Quite often though these feelings can be overwhelming and are behind many of the mental health problems we face.

In this article we explore 6 practical steps we can all follow to feel better now, and then understand where these feelings come from, for long-term benefit. This process is the same no matter what the emotion we may be dealing with. There are also links here to the relevant sections of the HappierMe app

The HappierMe app supports you to put out the fire in your own mind, and then find out why the fire started in the first place so it does not occur again.

Our mind is an automatic reaction machine and often the same triggers evoke the same powerful feelings in us, which repeat in predictable patterns. We seem powerless to do anything about them. These feelings like anxiety, stress, anger, loneliness, and envy can be overwhelming. These emotions can make us do things we may regret like lashing out and hurting others when we are angry. Or drink too much alcohol or binge eat if we are sad. Or get into unsuitable relationships if we are feeling lonely. Or self-harm if the stress is overwhelming and we can’t think of a way out. They stop us from thinking clearly, reduce our ability to concentrate at work, and impact our performance, so it is worth investing our time and energy to explore better ways of dealing with them.

Being able to manage our own emotions can help us manage our own mental health, have happier relationships, avoid addiction and self-harm, and live our best life. This can also help us be emotionally intelligent, which can contribute to our success at work.

Let’s get started.

Step 1 — Calm the mind

The first step is to find ways of calming the mind. These feelings are often powerful and you lose your ability to control them, or reason and think your way out of them. Lean into the sensation of the feeling in your body without naming it and do a breathing exercise, or go for a walk in nature, or listen to an audio meditation or do a tapping exercise. They activate the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing our breathing down and reducing the stress response. It is important that you have practiced these beforehand so when the challenge arises you are ready.

Learn a new skill — to be able to notice a feeling without naming it. It's a quick way of calming the mind. There is a module called Look without language in the app which can guide you on how to do this.

Resources to explore in the HappierMe app: Breathing exercises, Nature meditations, Audio meditations, Tapping exercises, Meditation, Looking without language

Step 2 — Awareness

Once the mind feels a bit more calm you need to become aware of what is going on around you, in your body, and in your mind.

Start with your surroundings and connect with them to realize that your thoughts and feelings are not your reality. Use all your senses to connect with the present — you could touch something like a table, or smell something like a fruit or some coffee, or listen to some music, or drink some cold water and feel it going down slowly, or just look at the sky and be awed by its vast beauty.

Once you become aware of your surroundings, bring this awareness to your body, noticing where you are feeling this emotion — it could be in your chest, stomach , or body. Stay with the sensation of that feeling without naming it if you can.

Use the awareness exercises in the app and notice the world around you and your body freshly.

Once you become aware of your surroundings and your body, it is time to become aware of your thoughts and feelings. There may be dozens of thoughts swirling in our mind in response to what has happened, for example anxiety around sitting for an exam, or if we are criticized, or if we lose someone we love. How can we make sense of all these thoughts and feelings? Many of our emotions don’t have a name either — and can be a mix of different feelings.

This is where journaling can help. Just start writing down all your thoughts and feelings as they arise. Don’t filter them or judge them as right or wrong. As they get out of your head and into the journal you will notice your mind begins to calm down. You can use the online journal in the app to do the journaling.

Resources to explore in the HappierMe app: Awareness, See the world freshly, Notice your body, Notice feelings, Online journal

Now as you feel better you can decide to pause here, or go on to understand where these feelings come from, so that you can be in charge and manage them better for the long term.

Step 3 — Acceptance without judgment

This is such an important step without which we cannot proceed further, and it’s not easy.

It involves taking ownership of how we feel and the reaction we have had, accepting it has come from our own mind and not blaming anyone for it. Our mind automatically wants to blame someone for causing this feeling in us — we blame someone else, or the situation. We could also be critical of ourselves for how we feel and not being able to control that feeling. If we are going to explore this feeling further and find out what’s behind it, we need to suspend judgement and accept that though the trigger may have come from the outside, the reaction has been in our own mind, and it is the reaction that has caused our distress. These feelings are not unique to any of us and are part of being human. Acceptance is made easier by realizing that every human being experiences the same range of feelings though the external triggers can be different for each person. Taking ownership does not mean that the external trigger does not need to be addressed, but we can do it with a mind that is calmer.

Resources to explore in the HappierMe app: No judgement, Learn to question yourself, PATHWAY program.

Step 4 — Enquiry. Be curious, ask a question

In steps 1–3 you’ve put out the fire using the fire extinguisher. In steps 4–6 we are going to investigate why the fire started in our mind in the first place, so it doesn’t occur again. This is going to need you to set some time aside and do the work. There is no quick fix, but the reward is that you are going to feel so much better for the long term.

We need to rediscover the curiosity we had as children to find things out for ourselves. Just as no one can teach you what water tastes like, no one can give you this realization or insight which will bring transformation. We need to discover it for ourselves. We are going to be detectives, and search our own mind for clues and answers. All good detectives ask questions and you will too.

Begin by having a mind that is open to learning. Let go of what you already know. Our certainties get in the way of making fresh discoveries.

Now ask yourself a question: ‘What is going in my mind to make it react in this way?’. Remember it is not your fault for feeling the way you do.

The answer will come from observing your own mind and your thoughts and feelings.

‘What is behind my feeling of anger?’ for example.

Or, ‘Why did I feel hurt’.

Or, ‘What is behind my feeling of stress or anxiety?’

You can look at what you wrote in your journal earlier and start asking questions about what you have written. ‘Is there a different, or more positive way to see things, and another way to respond?’

Resources to explore in the HappierMe app: Questions are the key, Three steps to enquiry, Guided questions

Step 5 — Understanding

This is where it gets really interesting and you are going to make some amazing discoveries about your own mind. You will be thrilled by them because understanding WHY you feel the way you do helps you make sense of what you feel and that will feel amazing. It's like walking into a room and putting the light on, except the light will be in your own mind.

Here are some examples of the discoveries you could make:

1. Behind all our anger is a feeling of hurt or disappointment from an expectation that was not met. These expectations come from our own past influences and our own emotional needs. They are not wrong, but cause us to suffer when they are not met.

2. When we feel envious and blame others for making us feel that way, our hurt actually comes from our mind comparing itself with others all the time and we are not aware of this. It’s also behind our feeling of low self-esteem.

3. Stress is just the difference between how things are and how we want them to be. Accepting things as they are can dissolve our stress. The app offers 14 ways you can be less stressed.

4. We often look for approval from others without realizing it, and need this approval to feel good about ourselves. If we don’t get this approval we feel bad and this can lead to low self-esteem. Seeing this clearly can empower us to not depend on others’ approval, and love ourselves as we are.

Each topic you explore in the app helps you understand what is going on in your own mind. It is only true if you see it clearly for yourself. It’s in actually doing the work of noticing, questioning and understanding for yourself that change occurs. Imagine being free of stress, or anxiety or having relationships without conflict?

Resources to explore in the HappierMe app: Succeed in life, Fear and anxiety, Stress, Relationships, Podcasts

You can repeat steps 1–5 every time you have an emotion you find difficulty coping with or if you are just curious to learn about yourself. Each time you do so you will notice some improvement.

Our emotional reactions are a doorway to learn more about our own mind, and this learning brings transformation and freedom.

Step 6 — Realization/ Insight

In the beginning our understanding can be intellectual and the patterns can keep repeating themselves, but we slowly gain control over our emotions. Though we may feel distressed we may not feel as bad as we once did. We may recover more quickly, or not blame others for how we feel, and not make bad decisions.

There will come a point though, and it will come unexpectedly, like a shaft of light breaking through the clouds, when you will have a flash of insight or a realization, see something in yourself really clearly, and you will be changed for the long term. It will be like walking into a room and putting the light on.

For example, seeing really clearly that the unconscious process of comparing yourself with others is causing you so much suffering helps you to stop it, and use it only when it serves you. Or seeing clearly that anxiety is your mind’s attempt to control the future, which it cannot do beyond a point, helps to dissolve it.

Nobody can give you this insight, you have to discover it for yourself through your own journey of looking and learning about yourself. It’s not an intellectual business — and anyone who wants to can do this — just like anyone who wants to swim can learn to do so. More than anything else you strive for, investing time and energy in this process of learning about yourself and growing as a person will help you make the most of your life.

We are here to support you every step of the way. Use the discussion forum to ask a question, join our live events, or reach out to one of our trained coaches for extra support.

Resources to explore in the HappierMe app: Insight, Coaches, Discussion Forum

Clarifying notes:

1. Don’t be disappointed if change does not occur right away. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Be patient with yourself. The key is to get started and keep going. Reach out and ask a question on the forum if you feel stuck.

2. Though it’s described as a 6-step process — that is only to make all the different parts of it really clear. You can do any step in any order, and you have to find out what works best for you. Insight can occur at any time.

3. It is in understanding and seeing clearly what is going on in your own mind that the transformation occurs. Have you seen how difficult it is to ‘Not be envious’, or ‘Get over your own stress’?

4. Be kind to yourself. Accept your feelings as part of being human, and an opportunity to learn about your own mind and grow as a person. They are not right or wrong, good or bad — they just need to be understood.

5. The journey itself is rewarding. Learning never ends. It is going to enrich your life in many ways, and help you live your best life.

Understand your mind. Live a happier life.

Life can be tough. The HappierMe app is your personal guide to help you feel better now, but also to take you deeper to understand your thoughts and feelings. It supports you to become the person you want to be, to be happier, manage your emotions and  succeed in the world. There are also coaches you can speak to through the app.

Copyright © 2024 HappierMe. All rights reserved

Copyright © 2024 HappierMe. All rights reserved