Mindfulness: The Path to Dealing with Difficult Emotions

Thinking vs Feeling

Throughout history, thinkers have always been celebrated more than feelers. This cultural idea that rational is better than emotional has led some of us down a path of emotional unawareness. For most days, this may not be an issue, but what happens when difficult emotions arise?

When dealing with difficult emotions, one common aspect is the feeling of being out of control. Yes, sometimes emotions can be imbalanced and can lead to the potential harm of yourself or others but when in control, who says being emotional is irrational?

Mindfulness is the key to thoughtful emotions

In order to gain control of difficult emotions, a helpful tool is mindfulness. This tool helps create the ultimate safe space in which we can observe our emotions and notice how they manifest throughout our whole body. With practice, this awareness can lead to finding power within our emotions by thoughtfully responding, rather than reacting.

Where to start

In a podcast featuring Dr. Aziz Gazipura Psy.D, valuable tools to begin a journey of mindfulness were shared. Based on his research, these seven steps provide the framework to start grounding yourself in an understanding of your emotions and how to react to them in a mindful way:  

Step One: Become aware of the emotion

  • When you notice an emotion, fight the feeling of avoidance and give yourself time to pay attention. Bringing attention to the feeling helps you learn how exactly it affects you mentally and also physically. Whether it’s a knot in your stomach, your heart pounding, or the tightening of your throat, breathe and sit with it. Sit with the sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, or whichever emotion you are experiencing. In this moment, your body is telling you key information about yourself and your surroundings.

Step Two: Agree to the emotion being there and label it

  • After becoming aware of the mental and physical aspects of your emotion, breathe and agree to staying in this state. Remember, agreeing to the emotion does not mean you like it.  Labeling the emotion out loud by saying, “this is anger,” or “this is anxiety” can help detach yourself from feeling powerless while still allowing you to stay in the present.

Step Three: Allow yourself to feel the emotion

  • With each breath, remind yourself, “I’m okay with this emotion.” You may not like it but with time, this allows you to sink deeper into the radical acceptance of your emotions. Being open to the discomfort, with practice, leads to a safe space full of awareness and compassion towards yourself.

Step Four: Surrender to the emotion

  • Typically, we feel our emotions for a long time before accepting them. However, avoidance tends to make things worse. When you remind yourself that emotions are temporary, it gives them the freedom to resolve. Try asking yourself:
  • “What and where is this feeling?”
  • “What do I need now?”
  • “How can I nurture it?”

Step Five: Explore the feeling

  • After surrendering, to gain a deeper awareness of the feeling, explore the different parts of it. The founder of PCBT
  • ‍suggests asking yourself:
  • “What triggered me?”
  • “What is causing me to feel this way?”
  • “What is the discomfort I’m experiencing and where can I feel it?”
  • This self reflection highlights the root of the difficult emotion from within your individual experience.

Step Six: Honor yourself, respect and embrace the emotion

  • When difficult emotions like sadness or anxiety arise, a typical response is to hate them. This dangerous habit can lead to depression. The less we respect our emotions, the less in control we feel. When we honor and respect our emotions, we build the strength to understand and thoughtfully respond to them.

Step Seven: Embrace the feeling

  • With breath and attention, show yourself compassion. Letting go of the need to control your emotions will balance the rational and the emotional mind.

Starting to practice mindfulness in your life can be hard on your own. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it all by yourself. The therapists here at PCBT are well equipped to help you along this journey by incorporating mindfulness practices with CBT. Additionally, here are some helpful apps to get you started:

    UCLA Mindful
    –Developed by the Mindful Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the app features different types of meditation in both English and Spanish.  
    Healthy Mind Program
    –Founded by neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson, the founder of  the research institute
    Center for Healthy Minds
    At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this app combines neuroscience and research-based techniques with meditation training to help increase overall well-being.

While there’s no straight path, the inner work done through mindfulness can lead to a life of emotional freedom.  By diving deep into who you are as a person, this will give you the power to deal with difficult emotions. The important thing to remember is that mindfulness is a journey. As always, give yourself grace when traveling along.  

About The Author

Rudairo Segbeaya is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Pacific CBT’s Office Manager. Rudairo received a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of San Francisco in 2018. In 2021, she later received a Master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University.