Uncomfortable Emotions: Why we need to move from avoidance to acceptance

by | Feb 7, 2022 | Anxiety, Depression, Self-Care | 0 comments

Horror films. We stream them knowing the jump scares are coming; that we’ll lose half our fingernails and our hearts will race a million miles an hour. But we accept it and make space for it knowing there will be something valuable to come out of it. Entertainment.

Yet often we’re not willing to mine for the value found in our emotions, especially when they’re uncomfortable. We operate under the mantra of “keeping on keeping on” rather than acknowledging our difficult internal and external experiences. We avoid thinking about them because they’re painful, and TV, Twitter, relationships, our occupations, household jobs and hobbies all provide us with easy avenues of escape.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that they are short term fixes. Avoiding uncomfortable emotions doesn’t make them disappear. They come back more intensely, more overwhelmingly, and often with cruel and inconvenient timing.

Research suggests that suppressing our emotions is linked to poorer physical health, poorer memory [1], increased susceptibility to developing a mental disorder [2], lowers our level of enjoyment of social relationships and makes us feel less connected.[3]

So what can we do?

Acknowledge:

Practise acknowledging those difficult feelings. Find words to describe the emotions to yourself. Just doing this can start to help us gain insight and relief from these difficult feelings.

Observe:

Observe some of the thoughts that come along with the unpleasant emotions you’re feeling. When we observe and take note of them, we often notice how unfair they can be: about our efforts, the significance of our mistakes and the perceptions of others.

Observe the snowball effect of times you have suppressed your emotions. Sometimes the anger or irritability that comes out in one setting might be linked to sadness or insecurity we’ve tried to avoid or suppress.

Accept
Practise accepting your emotions. They can be painful, enjoyable, confusing, distressing. But they are what makes us human.

Living the life we want to live, forming close relationships and striving for our goals does come with many uncomfortable and painful experiences. But ultimately it gives us a richer and more meaningful life. And you’ll experience many more desired emotions along the way.

Do what’s important to you

Think of your emotions like the weather. Some days your emotions will be sunny, enjoyable and allow you to easily do the things that are important to you. Other days your emotions will feel like a storm or the rain, making every little hope or aspiration for that day just a little bit harder. Acknowledge this. And find ways of navigating these days. Figure out what your ‘raincoats’ and ‘umbrellas’ are; the things that allow you to get out there in the rain and carry on doing the things that are important to you.

Maybe this is practising mindful grounding, dropping anchor, writing down in a journal.

What meaningful pursuits will you rediscover as you make time and space for your emotions?

__________

[1] Richards, Jane & Gross, James. (2000). Emotion regulation and memory: The cognitive costs of keeping one’s cool. Journal of personality and social psychology. 79. 410-24. 10.1037/0022-3514.79.3.410.

[2] Haga, Silje & Kraft, Pål & Corby, Emma-Kate. (2009). Emotion Regulation: Antecedents and Well-Being Outcomes of Cognitive Reappraisal and Expressive Suppression in Cross-Cultural Samples. Journal of Happiness Studies. 10. 271-291. 10.1007/s10902-007-9080-3.

[3] Peters, B. J., Overall, N. C., & Jamieson, J. P. (2014). Physiological and cognitive consequences of suppressing and expressing emotion in dyadic interactions. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 94(1), 100-107.