In a world in which we are told mindfulness is the key to contentment, it becomes so easy for us to shame ourselves for negative thoughts and emotional outbursts.
We therefore bottle up those emotions that we can’t think our way around and this leads to storing that negative energy within ourselves until we become overwhelmed and stressed.
I’m here to tell you that having negative thoughts, and experiencing emotional outbursts, is a normal part of being human.
That’s not to say that we should let our feelings explode all over the place and take our emotions out on other people. It simply means that we are allowed to feel and allowed to express but ultimately must be responsible for any effects it has on ourselves and those around us.
It’s these effects that often cause us to hide or suppress those feelings that may hurt others or ourselves. However, those resulting feelings of guilt, shame and frustration are not meant to destroy us – they are meant to help us make repairs.
Handling emotional outbursts is a matter of balance.
We need to figure out how to turn our negative thoughts and emotions around and move forward. This is where the practice of mindfulness comes in handy. Not only does it teach us to be present in our world but in tune with our thoughts and emotions. It helps us identify which feelings are worth acting on and which must be let go.
The NEAT Exercise
Whenever you feel completely overwhelmed by your emotions and find yourself lashing out at yourself or those around you, simply remember the NEAT exercise:
Normal: Not being able to manage bursts of emotion well is normal – we all have moments where our feelings get the better of us.
Expected: These outbursts are expected to happen from time to time.
Accepted: Accept that you are not perfect – we all make mistakes when it comes to handling our feelings.
Taken Care Of: Address the aftermath of your outburst or the reactions to it appropriately – apologize to others and forgive yourself.
A Simple Mindful Exercise for Negative Emotions
In addition to using the NEAT exercise to handle your outbursts, you can also try this simple mindful exercise to work through your negative emotions:
- As soon as you become aware of a negative feeling, stop and allow yourself to feel it. It’s important to turn toward the emotion instead of turning away from it. This is not to say that you need to confront the feeling head on – just allow yourself to accept that you are feeling something negative.
- Label the emotion. It is as simple as saying, “I am angry,” or “I am overwhelmed”. It’s the keystone step in teaching our children emotional intelligence but one that we often forget to use for ourselves.
- Imagine your emotion as a person or object and picture yourself embracing it in your arms. Realize that you are not that feeling – you are not defined by your emotions and all emotions are impermanent. This means that they do not last forever.
- Once you begin to feel a sense of calm, investigate your emotion. Where did it come from? Why are you feeling it? Is there something in the past that has taught you to feel this way? Do you have a personal belief or value that guides this feeling?
- Allow yourself to respond appropriately. You may feel the need to talk it out with someone or write it down in a journal. By the time you work through the emotion, you will have a clearer understanding of how to deal with it.