There’s no escaping feeling bad from time to time. Feeling bad is a part of life. Our feelings are indicators of our thoughts. Painful or angry thoughts alert us that something is wrong.
This is when it’s time to take action. Consider that negative feelings are similar to alerts or notifications on your smartphone that pop up for a moment, but disappear when you dismiss them. When you practice mindfulness, you can do the same thing with your emotions.
It’s important you notice and take action, then let these “alerts” go. Holding on to bad feelings and thoughts for too long can lead to internal discord, create habitual negative reactions, and attract more bad feelings.
Whether you’ve been feeling bad for a long time or you’ve been rocking along in life and then are suddenly hit by them, here are five simple ways you can intelligently process through painful thoughts and emotions so that they don’t get the best of you.
1. Focus Up
When you have a negative thought, you can “focus up” to turn it into a positive. Any difficult situation can be made more manageable by choosing a more positive, hopeful focus:
This will require filling your mind with good thoughts, learning to look for the good, and choosing a better approach. Victim mentality will try to sabotage this approach, but with determination and practice, you can begin to take charge of your focus.
When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
For example, one school morning, my sister was in the hospital awaiting an important procedure. I wanted to be there, but it was an hour away and I had two teens to get to school first. This just happened to spiral into a morning where everything went wrong.
As I was hurriedly getting ready, my daughter rushed into my bathroom. She had just remembered that basketball tryouts had started an hour ago. My husband had gone to the meeting in my place when I had another obligation, but forgot to put it on the calendar. I found the email with the information, but with my sister suddenly in the hospital, I hadn’t been checking emails. My daughter left the room in tears. I felt bad, but what could we do.
It was time to go, but I wasn’t ready and the dog still needed to be taken care of. I’d have to take the kids to school and then come back home before heading out. Suddenly, my son cried out when he caught the dog chewing his one-week-old and very-expensive-to-replace retainer (which the doctor and we warned him to keep out of reach of the dog numerous times). Now, he was in tears and we were supposed to be leaving!
In this moment, I just froze, unable to cope. Fear gripped my mind, “What if something goes wrong at the hospital? I should be there!” My kids are both mad and sad and crying. My first response was to yell at the dog, who tucked his tail and ran into his crate. “We’ve got to go!,” my mind is crying out!
In years past, my younger self would have yelled at the kids and hustled everyone out the door anyway. Everyone would have gone their way upset. But, in this moment of chaos, I am grateful that my instinct was to focus up and cry out to my Heavenly Father, “Please help us manage this moment!”
I felt inspired to call both my children to me. We dropped to our knees, held hands, and I offered a prayer, asking for peace, calm, and wisdom, praying for my sister, that all would be well, thanking God for all that we have, especially mostly good days.
Within moments, everyone was calm and we began to figure things out. I cut a very small chewed portion off the back of the retainer so that it was smooth again. Thank goodness, the top one is fine. My son (who was ready to give the dog away a few moments earlier) gently chastised him then picked him up and instantly forgave him. He realized it’s his responsibility to keep his retainer safe.
I emailed the coach in hopes that she would make an allowance for my daughter. But, we decide that if she didn’t then maybe, with daily afternoon musical and choir rehearsals, she had enough on her plate and we’d trust that it’s for her best and highest good. There’s always next year.
The kids were both very late, but I went in and talked to the front office ladies. They were so kind and understanding. I am reminded that most people are intrinsically good.
The best news is that, while I was dropping my now calm kids off, my brother-in-law texted that the procedure went beautifully and everything was as good as it could possibly be. I could now relax and drive calmly there.
Yes, sometimes, bad things happen to good people. And, when they do, it’s ok to take a step back, drop to your knees and pray, or just get calm and trust that the answers will come.
There will always be chaotic moments where thoughts and feelings can quickly spiral out of control. But, if we remember to focus up, inviting in the help of a higher power, we can more easily regain our composure and peace of mind.
2. Name It
“To name it is to claim it,” I say. Noticing what you are feeling will help you to manage it better. Awareness is 50% of solving a problem and mindful awareness allows you to be in charge. Name the feeling and you automatically take control of it. You are its master. “I feel angry.”
By acknowledging it, you are now prepared to deal with it and the root cause. It seems simple, but believe it or not, many people can’t do it. They feel bad all the time and are seemingly trapped by these feelings, as if they have been taken prisoner by an unseen enemy. They are bound in their mind. Anger has taken over and is continually in control. Getting angry is a natural response. But anger isn’t a way of being. It’s an alert that something is wrong.
Many times, I have noticed I was feeling a certain way long before I recognized it. It wasn’t until I named it that I could put my finger on what it was that was bothering me.
A local counselor once presented a talk on the issue of pornography, which afflicted far more men than women. One reason for this, she found, was that men tend to be less aware of their feelings. To help them increase in self-awareness, she has them set a timer on their smart phone to go off every two hours. When the timer goes off, they are to ask themselves, “What am I feeling right now?” It helps them own their feelings in an effort to take back their power. How can they master their thoughts if they don’t even know what they’re thinking or feeling?
When you begin to experience uncomfortable feelings, stop and ask yourself, “What am I feeling? Why do I feel this way?” When you can pinpoint the issue, you will be more empowered to resolve it.
When you are upset or stressed, you may find your breath has become quick and shallow. Breathing deeply and slowly can instantly calm you down, mentally and physically. Oxygen is a natural “medicine.” Learn to breathe properly and make it habit to practice mindful breathing. Here are a few different variations of calming breathing techniques:
If you are stressed or anxious, try this two-minute calming technique:
- Close your eyes. Breathe in slowly, then slowly release it, fully and completely from your lungs. Release all thought and tension.
- As you breathe in, allow thoughts of calm awareness and all possibilities.
- Notice what you are feeling in the moment. Allow it without judgment. Just be ok with whatever you are thinking and feeling, all the while focusing on your breath. Breathe in calm and awareness, breathe out stress or tension. Allow your body to relax.
- Now, exhale and smile for one minute.
- Open your eyes. Notice how much calmer your body feels.
When you suddenly feel angry or sad with little provocation or if you are experiencing a roller coaster of emotions, practice breathing and releasing. You may have pent up emotions that need to be released from your body.
- Breathe deeply from the belly all the way to your upper chest.
- Tune in to the feelings you want to release and then let them evaporate as you breathe out.
- Think of it as cleaning out your past. Visualize it. Intend it. With practice and intention, you can learn to release
If you want to feel alive with energy and present in the moment, practice the “4-7-8” exercise by Dr. Andrew Weil:
- Simply place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise.
- To begin, exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- Repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Make this a daily practice:
Knowing how to breathe can help us control our emotions and fears. It will help to keep a clear and sharp mind. Take a couple of minutes out of your day and sit down in a quiet spot. Then breathe a little deeper than usual and focus only on the air going in and out. Nothing else. By doing so, you calm your mind and body down and you reconnect sharply and fully with the present moment you’re in.
4. Brain Dump
This is exactly as it sounds. Imagine what would happen if we never removed the trash from our homes. It would pile up and stink to high heaven. Everyone has some “stinking thinking”–negative recurring thoughts that swirl around in our brain, demanding to be heard. Perhaps they are old thoughts that were never released. Or just extraneous messages that aren’t important. When my thoughts start reeling and affecting my judgment, it’s time to clear the air by doing a brain dump!
Take out a plain piece of paper. Dump any and every negative thought or feeling there. Write quickly and freely, without trying to sort or figure things out. Just express your thoughts and feelings without judgment. You might even find yourself scribbling or writing aggressively. That is great. It’s an energy release. Your body must have a way to release pent up energy, so scribble and write until there’s nothing left to say.
Giving your feelings a voice may be all you need to neutralize and release any negative affects they’ve been having on your day. It doesn’t need to take long. Just write until you feel better.
When you’re done, it’s likely there’s some unusually negative stuff that you don’t want lingering, words that no one needs to read, including yourself. The best solution is to shred your paper, wad it up and throw it away, or even burn it. (I have also completed this exercise in my journal on my computer. When I’m done, I highlight everything I just dumped and press delete.) Whatever you do, don’t hang on to it. Let it go forever.
Congratulations, you just cleared out your mind. You’ll likely be more at ease and ready to focus on positive thoughts, solutions, and outcomes.
5. Let music lift your soul
Music is powerful! Create a playlist in advance of happy, energizing music. You might have more than one playlist, depending on the circumstances.
If you’re grieving, it’s unlikely you’ll be uplifted by crazy dance music. But, do seek out comforting in uplifting music that is a balm to your soul. It might be spiritually uplifting or it could be soothing jazz or relaxing piano music.
When you’re overthinking and anxious, you might play happy, motivational or positive thought-provoking music give your mind a break and shift your focus.
I have a spiritually uplifting playlist, a warrior playlist (when I want to feel strong and empowered), and an exercise/dance playlist that makes me want to move. The possibilities are endless.
Whatever kind of music raises your vibration, play it with intention.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- Anything from The Greatest Showman! (to joyfully sing along)
- Unstoppable by Sia (to feel motivated and confident)
- Brave by Sara Bareilles (to feel motivated and confident)
- Whatever it Takes by Imagine Dragon (to have fun and raise energy)
- Better When I’m Dancin’ by Meghan Trainor (to dance and move)
- High Hopes by Panic! At The Disco (to get happy and raise energy)
- I Believe in You by Michael Buble (to restore faith)
- Ready or Not by Bridgit Mendler (for confidence and fun)
- Be Still My Soul (hymn – for comfort and strength)
- Come Thou Fount (hymn – for faith and gratitude)
- Fight Song by Rachel Platten (for strength and confidence)
- Fireflies by Owl City (for fun and good cheer)
- Limitless by Colton Dixon (to build faith and move forward)
- Musical Rapture by Frederic Delarue (for healing and comfort, free from eraofpeace.org)
Use these simple tools to manage your emotions and you will find yourself feeling better in no time!