In my yoga class last night, the teacher stressed the need to slow down and listen to our bodies. She said that when yoga gets hard, our minds want to run away. I found that to be true. I had to really focus on my breath and tell myself that I could handle this difficult pose for a moment more.

I think that the same is true for difficult emotions. Often our first instinct is to run away from the pain, anger, loneliness or fear. We think we can’t handle it. We tell ourselves we can’t stand it or it shouldn’t be so hard or it’s unfair. Many times we underestimate our ability to cope with such emotions. Do you run to food or alcohol or numb out online or in front of the TV? Or do you just stuff the emotions and add this newest upsetting event to the pile of other upsetting events that you are too scared to try to face?

What is the cost of avoiding difficult emotions? Emotions can be trying to teach you something, so if you are not really listening, then the message can’t get through. In your attempt to cope with emotions by eating or drinking, you might be creating more problems for yourself. What happens if you try to suppress a strong emotion like anxiety? It grows, it will reappear in increasing frequency and intensity until it’s resolved.

So what is another option? You can tolerate emotions. But, you can’t do this until you stop running away from them. One way to do this is to practice AWARE, a method created by Dr. Aaron Beck, founder of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

A – Acknowledge your emotion, quit fighting it and accept what you are feeling. Name it and be aware of how it makes your body feel.

W – Watch your emotion. Slow down, tune in and sit with your emotion for a bit. You can do this. Emotions, especially anxiety, tend to increase in intensity, then peak and start to subside. What happens to your emotion if you breathe, stretch, take a walk?

A – Act through your emotion. Don’t stop living, that will only reinforce the negative emotion. Acting though it helps you learn you can keep moving even when emotions are intense.

R – Repeat. You have to practice this new skill set. The only way to learn you can tolerate emotions is to practice tolerating them. Each time you do, you are creating new neural pathways and building confidence that you can handle strong emotions.

E – Expect the best. It may not always go perfectly, but look for small changes towards a more adaptive way of coping.

Contact me for support in facing your difficult emotions, you are not alone, bclark@shineintegratedtherapy.com, 303-455-2409.