Have you ever wondered why some people always seem to have a positive outlook on life regardless of challenges and disappointments? And why others, who seem to have it all, worry, are unsatisfied and judgmental?
The approach we take is determined by several factors, our personality being one of them. Some people are naturally more resilient and have a more positive outlook than others. Another factor is our upbringing. How did our parents handle negative events? What sort of response did they model? It is likely that our way of responding to negative emotions is somewhat similar. Also our personal coping mechanisms, strategies that we have developed in order to feel like ‘we are okay’, hugely impact on how we process negative events and emotions.
If we want to learn how to overcome negative emotions and avoid worrying and feeling hopeless and frustrated, Mindfulness offers a simple and very effective technique for this. It is called Acknowledge – Link – Let go and was developed by Pauline Skeates, our mindfulness course facilitator in Kingsland.
Step 1. Acknowledge
Your mind cannot process an emotion that you don’t acknowledge. One way to mindfully acknowledge how you are feeling is by saying ‘Hello’ to the feeling.
- Hello stress
- Hello frustration
- Hello feeling not good enough
When you say hello to an emotion, you are talking to the emotion. You are no longer immersed in it but you take a step back and separate yourself from the emotion. Saying hello to a thought or a feeling, is a kind and non judgemental way of acknowledging that it is there and therefore it is very effective in reducing stress.
Step 2. Link
When the mind has the opportunity to make the links between this negative feeling that is there and the triggers that are causing it, it automatically calms down. A mindful way to make these links is by saying to the emotion:
‘It makes perfect sense that you are here, given the situation’. Then you observe the things that come to your mind. In this process, the links are made and your brain calms down even further.
Step 3. Let go
The next step is to put one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach area. Take a few deep breaths, drop your shoulders as you breathe out and just breath out this negative emotion. It helps if you say or think to yourself:
‘I let it go’.
By putting one hand on your chest and one on your stomach area something powerful happens. It activates the Social engagement system in your brain. The same brain areas become active as when you would be holding a loved one’s hand or feeling their arm around your shoulder. This simple technique is a powerful way to support your own brain in processing and calming down, without having to ‘be strong’ and ‘just get on with it.’
As you are breathing out the emotion, letting go of the things that are bothering you, your mind cannot help to calm down even more. When you arrive at a calm and accepting state, often insights and helpful thoughts will appear giving you a clear and helpful perspective on the situation.
* There might be a situation in which you will feel a different emotion then the initial emotion you started processing. For example:
- You process feeling angry and then you being to feel sad
- You process feeling stressed and then you tap into feeling unsupported
- You process feeling anxious and then you tap into feeling rejected
Emotions often consist of different layers, when you process one layer of emotion the underlying emotion will appear. When this happens you simply follow the same steps as you did with the original emotion, to process the underlying emotion that has come to the surface.
When you come to a place of feeling calm you know you have processed everything that was there. This process will have an undeniably calming, soothing and comforting effect because of the oxytocin that is released in the brain. It allows us to move on from the event to something else.
You can use this free mindfulness track to practice this technique.
The Health Benefits of successfully processing emotions
The ability to transit from the fight or flight modus (high in adrenalin) to the calm and content modus (high in oxytocin) is a true skill that we Westerners are not usually good at. We tend to frequently be in the ‘stress state’ or the ‘striving state’ in which we make goals, pursue them and experience temporary highs from achieving them and the ‘unsatisfied state’ of feeling anxious, frustrated and judgmental. This state is easily triggered when we fail to achieve our goals.
The ‘calm and content state’ is one we struggle to enter and rarely allow ourselves to be in. Our inability to turn on this calming and soothing state puts a heavy burden on our immune system as well as our physical and emotional wellbeing. We deny our bodies and minds the opportunity to calm down and recharge, leaving us prone to stress, burn out, depression and anxiety.
Even if we did not learn how to successfully process negative emotions as children it is not too late. We can still learn how to acknowledge, link and let go of emotions and lead a healthier and happier life.