By Elizabeth Perzan, MSW, RSW
You should be happy, but something just feels off.
You can’t be tired…you only hit snooze once this morning. You made it to work on time. You did great in that meeting and don’t forget that hilarious joke you told. You made time for friends and family and even cooked a great meal for supper. Maybe it’s a tightness in your chest, or an ache in your stomach. But no, you’re not really sure. Either way, your head and your heart just don’t seem to be on the same page.
No, nothing is wrong with you. And you’re not alone.
As human beings, we experience a wide range of emotions on a daily basis. It's okay to feel down sometimes. We can’t expect to be happy 24/7, even if everything seems to be going well. In fact, closing the door on negative emotions can actually backfire, diminishing your ability to feel happiness, joy, and contentment. Simply put, we need the bad emotions in order to appreciate the good ones.
Emotional regulation is essentially the art of acknowledging and accepting both pleasant and unpleasant emotions, and experiencing them as they are happening in order to prevent them from getting stuck inside you. Avoiding emotions can create barriers for moving forward. That’s right – you have to notice how you feel in order to move past it. Remember that acknowledging the emotion doesn’t mean you agree with it. The goal is to learn to accept your emotion for what it is, without judgment.
Even when it doesn’t seem like it, we are in control of our emotions. Because of course, emotions are reactions to our interpretations of the events in our lives. This also means that we are in control of how we react and respond to them. Acknowledging the emotion puts us back in control, and taking a second to pause and reflect gives us permission to feel. Within this pause, you can now move forward. Take a few deep breaths. Do you want to react negatively to this emotion, or respond more positively? What are the consequences of your reaction?
It’s okay to not know why a certain feeling has overcome you. You don’t need to identify the cause of an emotion to acknowledge its presence. Some emotions are brief, while others tend to stick around for a while, but all emotions have expiry dates. The most important thing to remember is: feelings must be felt.
“You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
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