How to manage difficult emotions

Publised: Tuesday 5th January, 2021.
As a psychologist I am very often asked “Angelina how can I manage my emotions”. The answer is not necessarily straight forward but it can be explained, and practice will enable you to control them.

Emotions are often divided into two categories, the bad ones and the good ones. We of course like our good emotions as they make us happy, we feel fulfilment, excitement, joy. To the contrary our bad emotions make us feel angry, sad, disappointment so we want to reject them.

In order to manage our emotions, we first need to focus on the role they play in our life and not simply categorising them as bad or good ones. Whilst some are more pleasant than others, they are in fact all good emotions to have. They all play a part in our lives.

Let’s look at the “fight or flight” reaction which is a physiological reaction that occurs when we are in the presence of something terrifying, mentally or physically. For example, walking in the street alone at night will create fear, a necessary emotion that will trigger the reaction to want to either fight or fly to protect ourselves. Whilst you usually would want to overcome your fear, it can also be a positive feeling that could save your life.

To know your emotions better you will need to name them.

Download my list of emotions which will help you recognise and name them.
It is not possible to manage something you do not know. Your brain has the function to recognise everything that is named. The part of the brain that can read your emotions is called the amygdala which is in the lower part of the brain. The amygdala integrates emotions, emotional behaviour and motivation. When you are stressed, you may feel some tension, but you may not know exactly what it is. Next time you are felling a difficult emotion, try to name it: I am angry, sad, stressed as naming your emotions is like filling a gap between your thoughts and your feelings. Naming your emotions is like practising some emotional intelligence.

Also remember that emotion is temporary. When we are capable of recognising that we are greater than the emotion we are feeling, we will be at peace with the feeling and able to listen to what that emotion is trying to tell us.

If you feel sadness you should try to recognise what is underneath the actual emotion. Have you not met your expectations, have you been disappointed by someone.

But naming your emotions is only the beginning. You will then need to ask yourself: what choices do I have? what next step do I take?

The technique which I use every day is called “RAIN”. It is a four-step process for using mindfulness in difficult situations. It is an acronym which stands for:

R – recognise what is happening
A – allow yourself to feel as you do
I – investigate your deeper self
N - nourish yourself

• R – recognise what is happening
Recognise what you are feeling. It does not matter if you like it or not, you must name it. It is the first and crucial step to move forward.

•A – allow yourself to feel as you do
Once you have recognised and named your feeling you should allow yourself to feel it. Do not try to hide it as if you do it is more than likely to come back in the future as a psychosomatic pain. Pain you will feel in your body, your back, stomach or as headaches. Feel where the emotion is in your body and accept it. One you are able to do that the power of the emotion will lose some of its strength. Eventually they will lose all power over you and will find a place within yourself.

• I – investigate your deeper self
To investigate your feelings and look at what is underneath you can ask yourself the question: why? It is not easy, but it is a very revealing way to tackle the roots of your feelings. Digging a little deeper will help you find what is behind what you are feeling right now.

You may be feeling sad because you lost a close friend or maybe you did not receive the promotion you were expecting. There is usually a reason for everything!

• N – nourish yourself
The final step in this process is to nourish yourself and your emotions. You need to forgive yourself and recognise that you are not your mind or your emotions. You are the awareness of what is underneath your emotions, thoughts and feelings. Once you are aware of this you will be able to look after yourself, your mind and body.

By way of example applying the RAIN method, let assume you are living abroad and feeling sad.

R – recognise what is happening
You are feeling sad.

A – allow yourself to feel as you do
Tell yourself that it is perfectly okay to be feel sadness, allow yourself to cry.

I – investigate your deeper self
Ask yourself Why you are sad? Are you missing your family, are you missing friends?

N - nourish yourself
Maybe you can call your relatives, write to them or invite them to visit you.

This is RAIN, the most important tool of my psychological work. It works when you apply it. Do not wait, start today and build tomorrow.

Download my RAIN journal for you to work on your emotions for the next 7 days.