Anger, joy, fear, surprise, sadness — life and its many emotions happen. While we can’t always change what occurs and how we feel about it, we can learn how to understand our emotions and find ways to successfully navigate all of life’s ups and downs.
“Emotions are natural occurrences,” says Dr. Amber Salvador, clinical psychologist at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. “Certain situations trigger specific thoughts, physical reactions, emotions and behaviors.”
According to Dr. Salvador, your life experiences influence how you think and react to events in your life. Over time, these thoughts and reactions develop into patterns and can occur automatically. “The question you must ask yourself,” she says, “is whether these patterned responses are helping or hurting you in the long run.”
Maladaptive coping behaviors come in three main forms
In an effort to avoid negative situations and the related emotions, some may turn to maladaptive — inadequate or inappropriate — coping behaviors. This can result in a failure to resolve the problem.
- Emotional numbing or avoidance
• Drug or alcohol 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 others while not taking care of yourself
“Pain is inevitable in a full life, but suffering is optional,” says Dr. Salvador. “We must learn to accept and tolerate emotional pain. This involves identifying and dealing with negative emotions as they arise instead of avoiding, numbing, displacing or discharging them onto others.”
There are a variety of adaptive — or constructive — coping strategies
To begin the process of dealing with emotional pain, we must acquire adaptive coping strategies. These strategies allow us to tolerate pain as it is happening in order to effectively work toward a desired solution and let the pain go.
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, talking with a loved one, exercise, creative activities such as painting or singing, addressing the issue assertively, and problem-solving.
If you externalize your emotions, you should strive 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 or say the alphabet backward).
- Return to the issue and talk it out calmly and respectfully.
“It’s important to remember that emotions are natural and how we choose to respond to them can either increase or decrease our suffering,” says Dr. Salvador. “When we choose to decrease our suffering, we also increase our capacity for joy, love, connection, peace and purpose in our lives.”
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.