Dealing with our emotions
Many people struggle with emotions, especially if they are experiencing intense anxiety, stress, depression, anger, or other difficult feelings. It can be particularly hard to deal with strong emotions given that we live in a culture that values being calm and logical. We constantly receive the message that being ‘too emotional’ is bad or wrong. Think about it- when someone on the street asks how you are going today, what is the most you could away with? Perhaps you could say something like: “not too bad, thanks” or “getting there”. Yet could you imagine actually being honest on a rough day and telling that person how terrible you are feeling? It’s easy to end up thinking that it’s better not to feel certain emotions and that we ought to push down our feelings. However, emotions fulfil a number of important functions and ignoring them can end up making us feel worse!
How emotions are helpful
Emotions offer us very important signals about our needs and these are certainly not meant to be switched off or ignored. Our emotions give us information about different situations in life. They warn us when something is wrong or unfair, help us to communicate effectively with others, assist us in connecting with others, tell us when something is important, and motivate us to take action. In this sense, our emotions are much like the petrol light in a car. The petrol light is your car’s way of signalling to you the very important need it has for petrol, just as emotions signal important needs about our daily life. When we ignore or push down our emotions, this is a bit like covering your dashboard with cardboard and continuing to drive on as if nothing is happening. Sooner or later, we run into trouble!Here is a list of some common emotions and what they often signal:
|Emotion||May signal that:|
|Anger||Something is unfair/unjust, we are in danger and need protection|
|Anxiety||We are under threat or anticipating that a threat might be around the corner|
|Boredom||We are currently under-stimulated, lacking enjoyment/connection/meaning/achievement|
|Loneliness||We must attend to our important need for connection with others|
|Sadness||We are under-resourced and need support/care, we have lost something important to us|
Combining emotional information with careful thinking
When we listen to the information given to us by our emotions and combine this with careful thinking, we can then decide on the best thing to do. Our emotions are based on our interpretation of situations, and this comes from our past experiences, what we’ve seen other people do, and what we’ve been taught to do. So we might sometimes misinterpret situations and relying on information from our emotions alone can be problematic. Emotions signal to us that we need to respond to the situation and we can combine this with careful and rational consideration to decide on a course of action. Psychological therapy can help you to improve your ability to listen to what your emotions are telling you and to use careful thinking, problem-solving and knowledge of your values to decide on the best pathway forward.