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3 Easy Steps to Work with Challenging Emotions

Four Ways of Dealing with Stress and Suffering
Four Ways of Dealing with Stress and Suffering
Challenging Emotions & Presence

Sometimes we need a fast and easy way to help us overcome stress and challenging emotions. Today I am going to introduce you to what I call my”emergency method”. I always use it when I feel overwhelmed by emotional storms. So without further ado I will jump right into the technique. I hope it will help you just as much as it has helped me!


Step 1: Receive the Challenging Emotion

Stop! Don’t try to do anything about the way you feel. Receive it simply as it is. There’s this deep impulse within most of us to change and fix and get rid of what we don’t like. Instead of “doctoring” around, trying to somehow push the emotion out or replace it with another one, I encourage you to wait and open up to what you feel right now. And trust me, this step is actually not as difficult as it might appear at first. Here, let me walk you through it:

By receiving our emotions as they are I mean you want to feel the physical sensations they cause within your body. Where do you feel is the center of your emotion? How does it move? What’s the quality of the feeling like? Does it buzz, vibrate, contract or expand? Is it heavy or light, still or agitated, hot or cold? Get to know the feeling as it is! Learn to simply observe as the feelings move around in your body and see them for what they really are – sensations and feelings.

I would recommend to practice this stage with small/light emotions before you move on to the bigger/heavier ones. We first need to learn to separate the feeling from the emotionally charged storyline or the narrative that describes the feeling, therefore we should first simplify it to the most essential truths: “It’s a feeling”. “Just Energy moving through the body”. “Hormones and chemicals are moving around” etc.


Step 2: Breathe Properly

Breathing properly is an art in itself, and we can get started by prolonging our breathing rhythm. You can do this by counting down the duration of your inhalation, the gap in between and the exhalation. Allow your counting to become slower over the time. You need to give your breath some space to gradually slow down – this is particularly true for fear-based emotions.

Notice the impact of deeper breathing on your emotional state. How does your in-breath affect the movement of the sensations in your body? If you breathe from your abdomen, how does it influence the sensations you feel? Furthermore, if you notice that a particular type of breath makes you uncomfortable I would strongly suggest to change it. The golden rule-of-thumb here is to breathe in a way that feels most comfortable and allow the breath to gradually calm down.


Step 3: Change Old Thought Patterns

While the first two steps help us to calm down relax and create space, the third step will empower us with a new way of thinking about the situation at hand. It is especially relevant to know that we can shape our thoughts. What you habitually (and often unconsciously) think, shapes and wires your entire psycho-physical system over time. That’s good news, because it points to your freedom of choice.

You can choose how you shape your thoughts and rewire the system that’s responsible for the way you perceive a certain situation. In this way you can slowly rewire your challenging emotions into beneficial emotions. This power is most noteworthy as it shows us that negative emotions are actually much like teachers. They point out where we are not aligned and create harm both for ourselves and others. As a result of engaging them consciously they offer us many opportunities for growth.

An example would be to change a harmful though-pattern after you have relaxed your body and mind. At first you might have thought that the upcoming conversation with your boss is “going to kill me as I might loose my job”. Your mind therefore fed you with according imagery and narrative, further fueling the underlying emotion of fear. After you have calmed yourself down with the first two steps you can finally introduce better thoughts such as: “I can always find another job” or “maybe it’s time for me to move on and learn something new in life”.


Work with Challenging Emotions

By changing our perceptions while calmly thinking through the situation in an empowering new way we can create a better direction in life. It doesn’t matter where you go, rather it’s really important where you are coming from. If you come from fear and you don’t let it go you will stay on course. If you come from kindness and stay on track, you are heading towards a more fulfilling future.

I encourage you to welcome challenging emotions and work with them as they can help you to create a beneficial direction in life. If you were to fall asleep in a driving car and suddenly noticed that the ground got unpleasantly bumpy you might have a chance at turning back onto the street, take a nap and avoid greater damage. The function of challenging emotions is to point out stress, resistance, misalignment and other factors that might lead to a rude awakening in the future if you stay “asleep”.

Emotions are your friends! Reconnect with them and let them help you lead a more fulfilling life.


And as Always…

Feel free to leave some good comments (Everybody can benefit from your skillful contributions!) I will simply delete Self-promotion (e.g. “I love your article. Please check this link to my own site.”). I might post your links if they are truly relevant and contribute to the readers experience though. We are open for meaningful discussions and hope that this article serves as an inspiration for you.

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Tobi has been studying and practicing meditation since 2002. He stayed 7 years in a Tibetan Buddhist Temple and currently lives in Thailand where he founded the Dharana Meditation and Retreat Center in Phuket with his wife Parn. In Thailand he continued his practice and found a spiritual home within local Theravada Buddhism. Tobi is known for an open and relaxed teaching style focusing mainly on a practical application of mindfulness meditation within a modern society. The direct experience of what the practical teachings point to is of foremost importance to him.

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