Hope, anger, joy, fear, surprise, shame, sadness — we all experience both pleasant and unpleasant emotions every day. While we are not always able to change situations and how we feel about them, we can learn how to understand our emotions and find ways to successfully navigate all of life’s ups and downs.
According to Jenkins, your life experiences influence what you think and how you respond to events in your life. Over time, these thoughts and reactions develop into patterns and can occur automatically; they become our default setting. “The question you must ask yourself,” she says, “is whether these default patterns are helping or hurting your mood, relationships and overall quality of life?"
Maladaptive coping behaviors come in 3 main forms
In an effort to avoid negative situations and the related emotions, some may turn to maladaptive —ineffective — coping behaviors, which can result in a failure to resolve the problem.
Emotional numbing or avoidance
• Substance abuse or any type of addiction, including food, shopping, sex, pornography and gambling
• Staying "busy"
• Social media, internet surfing or TV
Externalizing pain or acting out
• Verbal or physical aggression
• Lying to, manipulating or blaming others
Internalizing pain or shutting down
• Isolating or withdrawing
• Pretending everything is fine
• Excessively caring for and focusing on others while neglecting self-care
“While we cannot escape emotional pain, we can choose what to do with it,” says Jenkins. “Coping with emotional pain involves learning how to accept and tolerate these emotions, instead of pushing away, avoiding, internalizing or externalizing them.”
There are a variety of adaptive — or constructive — coping strategies
To begin the process of dealing with emotional pain, we must acquire effective coping strategies. These strategies allow us to tolerate pain, so we can use other skills to problem-solve and get to the other side of emotional pain.
Feel, deal and heal
If you know that you tend to internalize emotions, your ultimate goal is to "feel, deal and heal."
- Identify the emotion.
- Allow yourself to feel the emotion.
- Express and release the emotion effectively through journaling, seeking support from friends and family, exercising, engaging in creative activities, addressing the issue assertively and problem-solving.
IIf you know your default pattern is to externalize emotions, your ultimate goal is to “STOP” — stop, take a breath, observe, proceed. You can do this by performing the following activities:
- Respond versus react.
- Observe what you are feeling in your body and take a break to breathe deeply; take a cold shower or put ice on your face; exercise; or calm your mind with a number or letter game (for example, count backward from 100 by 7s or name an animal using every letter in the alphabet).
- Return to and discuss the issue in a way that honors you and all involved.
“It’s important to remember that emotions are natural. Recognizing, experiencing and choosing how to respond to our emotions is key to regulating emotions. Our skillfulness and willingness to do this can change the quality of our lives,” says Jenkins. “Effectively dealing with unpleasant emotions allows space for other emotions, such as love, happiness and excitement that can help create a meaningful life.”
Talk to your doctor if you or a loved one are experiencing excessive sadness, anxiety or worry for an extended period. Learn more about related mental health programs at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital.