When negative or stressful emotions arise in us, they rarely go from 0-60 instantly. Occasionally they do, but generally there is an acceleration phase. A car cuts you off, your spouse says “You never do the dishes!” and you know you do the dishes often, or your boss says something degrading to you. In that moment you feel something in your chest, throat, stomach, ears, etc.
That part is totally natural. Our emotions are what protect us from danger, they are what make us want to take care of children, etc.
Then the stories start. “That piece of shit car driver doesn’t respect me. He/she doesn’t respect anyone and just always gets away with it.”
“My wife never notices the effort I put in, and the dishes is just one example. She thinks she’s the only one that does anything around here because she is so self-centered. This is so unfair.”
“I’m worthless. My boss hates me and I’m going to lose my job. Why do I even try here anyway?”
These stories are the problem. They are the reason that we can allow small things like a car cutting us off completely derail our day. We take the emotions, which are small fires, and add gasoline to them.
What if we didn’t add gasoline to that fire? It would just go away, and a lot quicker. To do this, you have to hijack your central nervous system.
Once this system kicks in (event happens, you feel emotion, you create a story in your head making the emotion stronger), it’s a pretty automatic response. We have years and years of programming to override.
Here’s how you do it:
- Something happens that causes what you would consider a “negative emotion.” The first step is to catch it before that story is created. Sometime this is .5 seconds, and sometimes it may be 30 seconds.
- Rather than create a story to explain the emotion, try to describe the physical sensation. “I feel it in my solar plexus. It’s a tight feeling. It’s hot. It makes it harder to breathe. Etc.” The more detail to it the better.
- Once you have described it fully, take 10 deep breaths in which the exhale is twice as long as the inhale. Something like 3 seconds in and 6 seconds out for a count of 10.
You are becoming aware of the physical sensation and being present with that emotion. When we fully feel these emotions they pass so much more quickly and never reach that same degree of intensity. This is mindfulness in practice. As you can probably imagine, this is not an easy thing to do. However, when done correctly it will have a significant and immediate impact, and the easier it will be to remember next time.
Try it out, and please let me know how goes for you.