Monday, February 19, 2018

It's ok to feel bad

Earlier this week, we got some very unfortunate news and it's impacting all of us in the Awesome household. We are struggling with a new reality we never would have chosen - a new reality that sucks and carries with it the knowledge that things will get worse.  But then, no one ever would choose the bad would they? 

Rejection. Failure. Death or Sickness. These produce sadness, fear, anger, disappointment, frustration, and many other things. And that is ok. That is part of the human experience.

What makes hard things even harder is this misconception, reinforced in our society, that we need to be happy all the time. This mythology makes emotional honesty even harder. These are some of the responses I've received to this recent struggle. 

"Don't feel sad." 

"Well, it could be worse."

"It is what it is."


These responses make me feel invalidated, isolated, wrong in my struggle. We need to embrace our sad times and our sad selves. It is ok to have natural human emotions. Learning to be comfortable with unpleasant feelings isn't just good for you, it's good for those around you. If you can't exist with feelings of sadness, despair, desperation, how could you help a loved one when tragedy strikes? Because it will. Life is a constant flow of positive and negative experiences and we all die. The fact that we all die means that everyone's life will be touched by that loss. Will you be able to be there with a friend who's lost their parent or child? Will you be able to provide support as a loved one faces a debilitating illness, cancer, diabetes without minimizing their altered reality as they mourn the things they can no longer do and come to grips with the new rules of life? If you won't learn emotional resilience for yourself, and you definitely should, learn it for your loved one's so they don't feel abandoned just as they are feeling so many other hard things.

But how do you do this?

These are some of my favorite lessons from Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David's powerful TED talk: 

"We own our emotions, they don't own us."

"Instead of I am angry, I am noticing I am feeling angry." 

"What is my emotion telling me? Which action will bring me towards my values? Which will take me away from my values? Emotional agility is the ability to be with your emotions with curiosity, compassion, and especially the courage to take values-connected steps."

Here are some ideas for identifying your emotions:

  1. Journal. Spend some time with yourself writing out what's happening and how you feel about it. Getting those emotions on paper (or virtual paper if you'd rather type) can build your emotional resilience and get the swirling maelstrom defined and out of your head and heart. 
  2. Mindfulness Meditation. Sit in a comfortable position and monitor your breath. As thoughts and emotions come up acknowledge them and release them. Some suggestions of how to do this - picture a river with the thoughts as leaves floating by on the current or picture a blue sky with the thoughts as clouds passing by. 
  3. Set Aside Time. Sometimes it feels if we open up to the sadness or other less pleasant emotions we will only feel this forever. But it's essential not to try to ignore our emotions, because they will find other ways to come out. Denying how you're feeling can end up looking like unhealthy self-soothing - binging on donuts, alcohol, pornography, etc. Designate time that is purely for feeling, sobbing into your pillow or the shoulder of a loved one, railing at the injustice, lamenting your loss. 

I hope you will take some time to build your emotional courage, for yourself, for your loved one's, for the world. I'd love to hear from you about time's when you have or times when you've struggled. Hard times and easy times, they are all part of a loved, lived life, after all. 

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