When was the last time you experienced a tough feeling? Maybe a feeling of disappointment, discouragement, doubt, loneliness, anxiety, or depression?
What did you do about it when you felt it?
Did you try to chase it away, cheer yourself up, calm yourself down, or distract yourself from it?
I’ve tried all these strategies-and so much more-when I’ve experienced tough emotions in the past. However, the peculiar thing about many of these strategies is that most of the time they actually made the feeling worse in the long run, or they had no effect whatsoever.
This was especially true in regard to my experiences with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which I’ve dealt with for most of my life. It seemed as though every time I tried to control or decrease my feelings of anxiety, the feelings only ended up being amplified down the road.
These personal experiences combined with helpful tips from mental health coaches and trained therapists led me to completely reevaluate my approach to dealing with tough emotions.
And I came to a peculiar answer.
The answer I found had nothing to do with making uncomfortable feelings go away. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The answer was to accept and embrace all the feelings I experience, regardless of how uncomfortable they may be.
More than anything, I’ve learned that I can experience tough emotions completely and fully as they are, without trying to change them or push them away. I’ve learned that as humans, we’re supposed to have these challenging emotions from time to time and experiencing them doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Sure, they may not always be comfortable, but that doesn’t mean they need to be judged and labeled as “bad feelings” that need to be exterminated.
I also noticed that the experience of avoiding and trying to control challenging feelings was usually more uncomfortable than simply experiencing the feelings in their entirety. Letting go of the resistance to feelings ended up being a freeing experience.
With that being said, it’s time to stop fighting our emotions, and instead, move toward embracing the feelings we experience. There’s no need to fight them, and even if we do fight feelings, we will never win. In the long run, feelings win every single time.
So, next time you encounter a tough emotion, instead of reacting to it and trying to control it, accept it for what it is and really feel it. Then carry on doing the things your best self would do, despite how you feel.
I’ve learned that even when we experience the most powerful emotions, we can still choose where our focus and actions will be directed next. We can choose to do what we really care about in each moment, instead of spinning our wheels in an attempt to control feelings that we all inevitably feel as humans.
It’s not easy though.
Consistently making the choice to put our focus on our values and actions instead of our feelings is actually pretty tough. It takes a lot of practice. Luckily, each moment of our lives is an opportunity to practice this skill.
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Disclaimer: VEST content is not therapy and is not designed to diagnose or treat any condition you may be experiencing. Please contact a medical or mental health professional for treatment that is specific to your needs.