Using mindfulness to cope with uncomfortable emotions.


using mindfulness to cope with uncomfortable emotions.

Let’s talk about uncomfortable emotions for a minute. You know, the ones that you always try to avoid? Sadness, anger, jealousy, rage, loneliness, anxiety, stress, overwhelm, annoyance. I use the description uncomfortable rather than negative or bad, because emotions aren’t good or bad. They are either comfortable or uncomfortable for a person, and this differs depending on one’s personality, upbringing, and life experiences. One person might find the emotion of embarrassment to be highly distressing, whereas the next person may find it humorous.

Often when we are growing up, we are taught that certain emotions are ‘bad’, particularly anger and sadness. So, as we get older we try to avoid those feelings, pushing them away as we ‘shouldn’t’ be feeling them. But what typically happens when you avoid something? It either gets worse the next time, or you find you need to use unhelpful coping strategies to deal. This is a pattern that I see every day with clients, where people continue to avoid uncomfortable emotions and then wonder why they keep getting more and more upset.

So if avoidance of emotion doesn’t work, what can you do?

Approach the emotion.

Yes, I’m asking you to approach that terrible feeling of anxiety, that bitter taste of jealousy, that pang of loneliness. We can bring more attention to our uncomfortable emotions by using the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the process of bringing your attention to the present moment, on purpose, without judgement. You may have used mindfulness before to pay attention to your breath, your body sensations, your thoughts…but what about your emotions?

By bringing more attention to our emotions, we start to learn several things;

  1. They aren’t that scary. Emotions are within us for a reason (Inside Out anyone?), and when we can accept and celebrate the need for the wide variety of human emotions, they become a lot less intimidating.
  2. We can handle more than we think. How many times have you said something like “I can’t even deal with this” or “It’s all just too overwhelming”? We often have much lower expectations for ourselves for how much emotion we can handle at one time. We set ourselves up for failure by predicting that we ‘can’t handle it’ then avoid actually feeling the emotion, reinforcing our original beliefs.
  3. Attention leads to acceptance which leads to happiness. Perhaps not at first, but the more you practice being mindful and bring attention to your uncomfortable emotions, the more you will accept them. This acceptance of uncomfortable emotions can lead to a much more satisfying and happy life.

If you would like to improve your reaction to stressful events, build your emotional intelligence, and reduce negative coping strategies, then the following mindfulness activity may REALLY help.

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    1. Jess

      Oh it is such a natural response to fight and push discomfort away isn’t it? Little bits of acceptance practice e.g. in short meditations can be a great way to start to use it more.

  1. I write about grief a lot, and trying to break down the social taboos around expressing and talking about grief, so this resonates strongly with me. Thanks for sharing. #teamIBOT

    1. Jess

      Yes, allowing people to just sit with their grief is incredibly powerful and a good way to move through those feelings, rather than trying to ‘push through’. Mindfulness practice can be very difficult for grieving people, but when they are feeling ready, it can be helpful.

      1. Zoe

        Yes it’s sooooooo difficult to concentrate the mind on mindfulness when having bad anxiety/ panic attacks.
        I’ve been suffering every day extremely badly- wipes me out, then I feel I’ve wasted my day & not been able to do anything , more days than not I can’t function

  2. This is something I am in the middle of at the moment and I know that this is actually making my depression worse. I have had a huge amount of trauma in my life just general trauma not child abuse, but I was in a DV relationship, there are a huge amount of little traumatic incidents that compounded and compounded and compounded. I have always pushed away feeling the feels of each one of the traumas and pushed through to simply functioning. The reality is that I am in a place now where I need to start in some way feeling these feels. I actually hate the term mindfulness because the reality is that my brain is actually so mindful that I can’t actually cope. My brain has actually shut down at the moment and each day I only retain the information for that day. When I sleep at night I then loose all that access. We think that the memories are there but the recall is just not happening because my mind is so full of feelings that simply haven’t been adequately felt and filed away there is no room for anything else. I have some great guides to help me through this process but it isn’t a fun one that is for sure.

    1. Jess

      Hi Cathy, thank you for your honest message and what amazing insight you have. The word mindfulness may be confusing for you, because you feel like you have lots of thoughts! Mindfulness is not about trying to think MORE, but rather just letting the thoughts and emotions be there, rather than trying to push them away. It is not an easy process at all, and you are strong and amazing for trying to sort through everything and move towards a place of improvement. Keep it up x

    2. Zoe

      Cathy I totally get where your coming from- I’ve had sooo much grief, trauma etc, though for me it’s the loneliness , friends & family just don’t get it & think you should be over it !! my head finds it really hard to cope every day. They just stay away that makes you feel more lonely ( half of the time now I just smile-as really they just want to go about their lives !! though it’s killing me inside.

  3. Thanks for sharing… Mindfulness is something I struggle with. I’ve got a long history of disordered eating and so have tried to sit with emotions rather than binge eat etc…

    I’m better than I was but still have a long way to go.

    1. Jess

      Sitting with urges can be the most difficult thing. Good on you for continuing to work on it Deb xx

    1. Jess

      Haha who knew I would have similar beliefs to a body pump instructor!

  4. Thanks for sharing. I read something yesterday about ancient greek and Jewish cultures believe that suffering caused change, which really got me thinking. Often those uncomfortable emotions do feel like suffering — or they actually are — but that suffering changes us. If we allow it to occur in a healthy way, it can be a really positive change that makes us stronger and our future brighter. Ignoring emotions still leads to suffering and to change, but it’s arguably a lot less positive.

    1. Jess

      What a fantastic insight. Change does often come from discomfort or pain, as it forces us out of our comfort zone.

    1. Jess

      Yes, eating mindfully is still something I need to tackle.

  5. I really needed to read this. Anxiety is a big issue with me.
    I’ve got a Mindfulness for mums book to review – today sounds like a good day.

    1. Jess

      Sounds like a great day to start digging into that book. Mindfulness is wonderful for anxiety.

  6. Working with emotions that I find distressing is one of the hardest things I have done in therapy. I used to believe that emotions came from a ‘bad’ place and were controlling me, so it’s been really important to stop that dialogue, something that mindfulness has helped a lot with.

    1. Jess

      Its really good to hear that mindfulness and your hard work has helped you through that process. Working with uncomfortable emotions is incredibly difficult.

  7. I had never considered mindfulness in the context of dealing with emotions before but it does make perfect sense. I’m bookmarking this so I can share with my son when he is a little older as he does have trouble dealing with uncomfortable emotions.

    1. Jess

      Yes, it often isn’t considered for use with emotions but it can be incredibly helpful.

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