“Everything exists in limited quantity-especially happiness.” ~ Pablo Picasso.
Self-help articles abound about how we can control our attitudes, and how optimistic and grateful people live longer. We can read about tried and tested techniques that are supposed help us feel good and happy. I write about these ideas, and teach them daily in my practice, and for the most part I do feel happy.
However, there are times when despair sets in and tears brim in with impending urgency. Sometimes we know exactly why we are feeling blue, but sometimes we don’t and might even feel guilty about our troubling emotions.
We all struggle to make sense of our lives, look for meaning in our work, enjoy our interpersonal relationships, and find inner peace and joy. Along with this struggle comes a range of emotions. Sometimes we have great feelings of joy, gratitude, and love, but sometimes we have more troubling feelings like hurt, shame, grief and loneliness. Rooted in past traumas, difficult relationships and challenging experiences, such feelings are inevitable.
When I feel down or angry, I might ask myself, “Why am I feeling like this?” But, despite all of my best intentions, there are days when it is just hard to feel happy!
When we are struggling to find inner peace and joy, what can we do?
Here are some tips to help us cope with difficult emotions when they arise.
1. Recognize that for every emotion an opposite one exists.
If we feel hate, we have the potential to love. If we are angry, we have the potential to be calm. For every time we feel afraid, there exists the feeling of safety somewhere within us. You can even feel opposite emotions at the same time.
Have you ever felt happy but sad at the same time? Even two true proverbs can mean the exact opposite. Whilst it is true that “Many hands make light work” it is equally true that “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” While we might believe that “Time and tide wait for no man” we also believe that “All good things come to those who wait.” And of course whilst you “Are never too old to learn,” at the same time “You can’t teach a dog new tricks.”
Accept ambivalence and contradiction as normal parts of the human condition. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist credited with founding the field of analytical psychology, explained this beautifully when he said, “The word ‘happiness’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”
2. Know that we can change our negative state of mind through action.
One of the ABCs of life is that Action Brings Clarity, and this includes generous and kind actions. Much scientific research supports this idea. You can’t necessarily turn positive feelings on like a tap when you want to feel good, but you can take practical, constructive action and often the positive feelings will follow.
Try smiling at a random stranger, or taking a present to your neighbour, or calling a friend, or buying yourself flowers, or taking the dog or yourself for a walk. Just do something positive! That will change your biochemistry and help you slough off negative emotions.
3. Listen to inspiring music and sing, or dance, or sing and dance to it if you want.
Notice how quickly music can change your mood.
4. Fresh air and sunlight or moonlight really help.
Take some time every day, as often as you can, to look up at the sky or the clouds or something in the garden. Fresh air and natural light have healing qualities.
5. Exercise and eat healthy food.
Unhealthy food and lack of exercise accentuates our negative moods as they are toxic for our brain chemistry.
6. Talk to yourself!
Have you ever been caught in a negative emotional loop, for example: having thoughts such as, “I am overweight, unlovable, useless, unhealthy, and stupid?” Do you ever find yourself perseverating on something that has gone wrong that you can’t change? (I know I have…)
Here is a technique you can utilize to turn things around for yourself. I use it regularly, and it and it usually works for me.
>>> Stop and notice it! Mmmm, there it is again, that negative useless mind chatter.
>>> Then congratulate yourself for having noticed it. This is self-compassion rather than self-berating.
>>> Then you can: swing your thoughts to something that makes you giggle or laugh; or focus on any of your five senses—what you are hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting or touching; or, without being hard on yourself, simply recognise that this is not a thought you want to hold on to, and tell it to disappear, over a waterfall, or in a helium balloon, or in a suitcase on a conveyer belt. Using visual images of letting go of those useless, unwanted thoughts and feelings can help you get rid of them.
This can be repeated every time the negative chatter comes back into your mind.
To end with a Chinese proverb that I love:
You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from passing over your head,
but you can prevent their making a nest in your hair!
Author: Lynne Woolfson
Editor: Catherine Monkman