Ripples of negative emotions

Negative emotions are normal, we all experience them. There is certainly nothing wrong with them, unless of course we loose control in their grip, or they stick around too long.  When either of those happen, they become distracting, debilitating, and damaging.

Think about the last time you experienced strong negative emotions. Regardless of the specific emotion, how much time would you say you gave to it? Minutes, hours, days, or weeks? Be honest. Are there events you continue to relive years later, conjuring up the same stressful reactions in your mind and body?

Fortunately, there are things we can do to help us move swiftly from agitation to calm clarity. In fact, Jill Bolte Taylor, Harvard educated Neuroanatomist and author of My Stroke of Insight, determined negative emotions will dissipate from our minds and bodies within ninety seconds – if we do not judge them, resist them, or perpetuate them.

Physiologically, acute negative emotions temporarily cause you to loose your ability think rationally, which is why Einstein said “strong emotions make smart people stupid”.  Long-term, the resulting stress on your body has been linked to health issues including headaches, digestive problems, insomnia, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.

Remember, negative emotions are not bad, nor should they be avoided. We will have them, and recognizing and expressing them can be healthy. It is getting lost in them, and/or repetitively reliving them, that creates problems.

The next time you find yourself overcome with negative emotions, rather than prolonging their stay by resisting them, judging them, or perpetuating them, try this:

  1. Take a deep breath. Fill up your lungs, hold it briefly, then let all the air out.
  2. Accept what you are feeling. Name it and accept it.
  3. Notice what is happening in your body. Feel your heart rate and the other sensations you are experiencing.
  4. Keep Breathing. Breath in fully, brief hold, and out fully.
  5. With curiosity, ask yourself why you feel what you feel. Really, what about this event triggered such strong emotion in you?

By now, your breath and internal systems have pretty much returned to normal. The acute negative emotion has run its course, leaving you free to decide what to do next.  Maybe you’ll re-engage productively in the meeting going on around you. Maybe you’ll take a nap. Whatever you choose, you can be certain you will do it with more calm and clarity than you could have summoned just ninety seconds ago.

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