I was in the grocery store the other day, and a mom was pushing a crying child in the basket. I don’t know what he was upset about, but his mom kept saying to him, “Stop your crying, right now!”
As if that was going to work.
Mom was only trying to make herself look appropriate to others around her, by showing that she was trying to do something about the disturbance. And she was actually getting more and more emotional and angry as it went on. She was feeding her beast and her child’s beast too. All I could think of, as I looked at her, was my grandmother’s favorite saying, “Will this matter five years from now?” And if the answer is “no,” then it is time to starve the beast.
Now, starving that beast is not something that happens overnight. We have set up some behaviors that allow us to get over-emotional, and changing those behavior will take some time, and a few practiced steps:
1. We have to recognize when the beast is on the prowl for food.
2. We have to develop some specific strategies to deny him his food
3. We have to practice those strategies in the moment, when the beast is emerging from his hiding place.
Here are seven strategies that we should all practice when extreme negative emotion is threatening to rob us of our peace and to spill over into the lives of those around us.
Get Out of the Moment
The anger, despair, anxiety or depression we are feeling is only because we are in a very current situation right now. This is not yesterday, and it is not tomorrow. It is right now. We may not be able to physically remove yourself from the situation, but we can mentally.
If I am in my car, and someone has just cut me off, causing me to slam on my brakes and my bags of groceries to go flying all over, it is normal to be angry. My first instinct is to lay on my horn, then I want to get in the other lane, pull up beside him, give him the finger and start hurling insults. I may feel better momentarily, but if this behavior is the norm for me when I become angry with someone or something, the long-term effects can be pretty harmful, especially physically.
Let’s play a different scenario. The same car cuts me off. I really want to lash out at this jerk, but if I am practicing starving my beast, I won’t. I’ll think about that great party last night and the even greater guy I met.
How can I be angry now? Love is in the air!
We are the only ones responsible for our negative emotions on steroids. And one of the things we do to justify them is to place the blame somewhere else. “I wouldn’t be so angry if only he… (fill in the blank).” No, we wouldn’t be so angry except that we are feeding our beast right now. People disappoint us; people wrong us; people “push our buttons” because they know they can. We have to acknowledge that we are angry (or depressed, or jealous) and ask “Why?” We are feeling this strong emotion because someone got something we wanted, someone stood us up, someone made a promise and didn’t keep it. That’s on them. So we need to ask ourselves:
Will this matter five years from now?
Who is really in control here? If we let what someone else says or does get this kind of a rise out of us, then that person is in control of us.
It is so liberating once we can acknowledge our hurt or anger, stop blaming others for it, and make the decision not to feed our beast in response.
We all love pity parties if we are feeding our beast. We can sit alone, ruminate over a situation until it almost becomes an obsession, and just stay stuck in the negativity. Or we can do something else right now.
>>> We can go to the store and indulge ourselves a bit.
>>> We can run by the local food bank and deliver some groceries or write a check.
>>> We can ride a bike, take a walk, go to the gym, or meet a friend for happy hour.
>>> We can go on a cleaning binge. A friend of mine told me about one time she had been dumped by a guy she was sure was “it.” She fed her beast for a couple of days and finally decided it was time to start again. Her first act? Cleaning out her closets and drawers. She said it was all symbolic, for cleaning out her head, but the side benefit was that she had really well-organized drawers and lots of stuff to give away.
>>> We can read a book that takes us to a different place.
Hang Out With People who are Even-Tempered or who Only Feed Their Happy Beasts.
It’s hard to be depressed, anxious, or angry when everyone around us is pleasant, happy, and having a good time. And if we make a habit of this, we tend to feed our happy beast too. And that happy beast? He tends to fend off that negative beast pretty well.
When we can replace a negative emotion with a good one, and do it often, it becomes habitual.
Create a Better Physical Presence.
Negative emotions do have physical counterparts. Anger increases heart rate and blood pressure – not a good thing. There are some physical things to do to alter these conditions as soon as the anger beast takes over.
>>> We can breathe—deeply, focusing on the exhale and picture ourselves expelling all of “bad breath” of anger or anxiety.
>>> We can walk briskly, counting our steps.
>>> We can turn on some fun, fast music and dance.
Emotions are not rational, but small amounts can motivate us. A little bit of anger about a situation can motivate us to take some positive steps to find a solution. Anxiety can have the same impact.
But when the steroidal anger or anxiety take hold, our brains are not functioning. We become stupid and we start to do stupid things. It’s time to force the rational, non-emotional parts our brains to function right away. Any of the following will work:
>>> Try to recite a poem from childhood.
>>> Start with first grade and start naming all teachers forward
>>> Recite the alphabet backwards
As the brain kicks in, the irrational emotional centers fade away and are reduced to the moderate, calmer beast
Get Needs Met.
Every human has needs. Of course we need those things at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid – food, shelter, and clothing. Then, as we move up that pyramid, the needs become more complex and less physical. Pretty soon we are to the point of needing relationships, work that satisfies our need for self-worth, a feeling of belonging, intellectual stimulation, and so forth.
When these higher level needs are not met, emotions are triggered easily and they become more extreme. So we hurl insults at the driver who cut us off. We allow even small slights to turn into major offenses against us. We blame others for our disappointments.
The only solution is to pursue the needs that are not being met. It’s a process that requires goal-setting and little action plans.
And the biggest thing?
We make the decision only to get emotional about those things that will matter five years from now.
Author: Nicole Boyer
Apprentice Editor: Lois Person/Editor: Catherine Monkman