William James said “the greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another”.
Now you are ready to identify an emotion you are feeling. It may be something narrow, like anger at someone for something they have done, or broad, like generalised anxiety. Conversely, it might be as broad as generalised anger or as narrow as anxiety about an impending future event.
It may be an uplifting emotion of happiness, freedom or excitement. These emotions are often discarded all too rapidly down the triage list as not needing attention because they aren’t causing us distress. Embracing these emotions and identifying with them can give us the fuel needed to address the distressing emotions.
Very few people celebrate feeling angry, no matter how justified that anger is. Are you enjoying the feelings of anger? Or are they disturbing? Is your anger justifiable because others agree with your reasons for being angry? Are you hanging on to the story of why you’re justified in being angry, as if your story can shield you from the need to let it go and move on?
Even though your anger is understandable because someone has behaved cruelly, you can still choose to not be distressed by seething emotions. This is called insight and it can only be achieved by letting go of judgements.
So you can see clearly that someone has not an iota of compassion in their body but, by being insightful rather than judgemental, you are able to decide to not feel anger. This means you do not have to revisit the person’s nasty actions, seek revenge or allocate punishment. Their snide comments fly past you and have no effect on you because you have chosen to not be angry when you hear them.
Choosing to be wise and non-reactionary frees you from the need to repeatedly tell your story. It can liberate you from an endless cycle of “living the story” and telling it so that others can reaffirm in you the perpetual anger.
Have you noticed how, when you first met your partner/spouse/BFF, you thought good and positive thoughts about them – not only when you were spending time together, talking on the phone or texting them, but also when not present with them? You would have been thinking about their endearing personality, the kind things they had done for you, listening to music you both like, planning fun nights out, etc. All those thoughts indirectly contributed to your bond with that person and helped to build the relationship into something uplifting and positive.
If the emotion you have chosen to observe is affection for someone, build on it. Take that emotion and think about it further. Choose your internal and external reactions to it. Embrace the feelings of affection and kindness.
When we allow ourselves to spend hours having conversations with someone in our heads, saying all the things we wished we’d said to them earlier, we create a monster of a character, which makes us feel uncomfortable. We all do it. And what a waste of time it is reliving the distressing past or, even worse, recreating a past conversation which never happened, isn’t happening now and probably won’t happen in the future. That time could be spent so much more fruitfully. Be mindful of the present.
Anxiety can be overwhelming. It can be crippling, can destroy relationships and make us fail at work. It’s often hard to pinpoint a single reason for our anxiety and the physical symptoms of a racing heart and tight chest can cause further anxiety. It becomes our world.
If you’re feeling anxious, is it about something that has happened in the past or that may happen in the future? Can you pinpoint the source of the anxiety? Some find that during meditation, even identifying that anxiety as a powerful emotion causes more anxiety and their heart rate increases. The physical action of massaging the vagus in your neck to lower your heart rate can help to regain focus.
Anxiety about a future event can be overpowering. We may find ourselves worrying about 10 potential outcomes of a series of events. In reality, only one of those outcomes is going to happen. We will have wasted an enormous amount of time and mental energy worrying about the other nine. And we will be weaker as a result.
Planning for the future is essential if we are to be sensible citizens in the workplace, good parents and decent friends. But worrying and stressing about it can occupy the part of our minds better used for increasing our mental strength in order that we can trust ourselves to be able to deal with whatever life throws at us, when it’s thrown at us. Learning to plan without anxiety, for the short term and the long term, is a life skill worth cultivating.
For now, we are merely identifying (and not over identifying with) the emotions. Deciding what to do with them can come later. A plan to deal with anxiety has to be tailored to the individual causes.