Dear Dr. Norquist:
I had a very up and down day today – as is usually the case. This morning I was worried about my job (my company may be downsizing). This afternoon I was elated at my daughter’s soccer performance. Later I was angry at my husband for neglecting to tell me he wouldn’t be home for dinner. And now I’m worrying again about my job. I guess most people might have similar responses, but I think I have a problem in that I feel all these feelings too strongly and it affects my mood, my work, and my relationships too much. Can you tell me how can I better manage my emotional state?
Dr. Norquist responds:
You ask a question that all of us can benefit from “… how can I better manage my emotional state?” As you know, our lives become the accumulation of our habitual emotional experiences. By learning to manage our emotional state, we are better able to create an emotionally fulfilling life for ourselves.
The first requirement is the decision to use your willpower to resist the easy emotional response. It requires no effort to react to a potentially negative situation with anger, resentment, self-pity, fear or any other negative emotion that is a natural response to a particular situation. These responses initially feel good. We feel justified, given the situation, in engaging in these feeling states. Over time these feeling states become habitual, and they wreak havoc on our health, relationships, and quality of life.
Resisting the immediate lure of these negative responses first requires the consistent use of your will to do so – akin to the consistent decision not to eat the wrong foods when on a diet. The second condition is that of focusing your thoughts in a manner that your inner emotional equilibrium will not be upset. As you may know, emotions follow thoughts. Practice becoming aware of what you are creating with the perspective you are taking in any given situation. Often it helps to put ourselves in the others’ shoes, or to assess the importance of this incident from a long term perspective. Decide if it would be helpful to speak up or to take action to rectify the situation. If so, choose how and when to do so, in an effort to be more at peace with the situation. It is helpful to use your breath to let go of emotions. Just stop and take a deep breath, and see yourself breathing out the negative emotion as you exhale. Could it be that this is where the expression “take a breather” comes from?
The more balance you have in your lifestyle habits, the easier it is to react to emotionally charged situations in a balanced way. In this regard, it is extremely helpful to maintain a regular practice that centers you and helps you to focus inwardly. This could include regular exercise, practicing a particular sport, meditation, yoga, martial arts, or even a daily solo walk, run or swim. Temperaments differ, and stability of emotional response is more difficult for some than for others. That’s OK. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. What is important is that you start where you are, and learn to uplift your emotional state, rather than be a passive victim of the emotional currents that run through you.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns.Ó 2016 Chaitanya Counseling Services