Recently I created a poll on our Instagram account that asked what you wanted to hear about next. 38% (the majority) wanted to know about dealing with bad days.
Here's the disclaimer, I'm a Master's student in psychology training to become a psychologist. I am not registered yet, so most of what I'm about to say is from what I've learnt through university, books, and podcasts, and a lot of it is also just from lived experiences. Do not take this as gospel; if you do need help or are seriously struggling, please reach out to your loved ones, or friends or seek help. I am Hope offers incredible opportunities for you to work through things if you are struggling to cope.
With that out the way shall we get into some 'real talk' about emotions, the shit days and what we can actually do about it. Because the other poll told me that 78% of the people following LG socials 'go with the flow of their emotions', they do not have a system or a way to cope or dealing with bad days.
First of all, let's talk about emotions, they come and they go sometimes, they can be all-consuming, and sometimes they flow in and flow out. Other times, you think you should be feeling something, and you don't. All of this is normal, we are humans, and these are our experiences. If we learn anything from the Humanistic theory of psychology, it is that our experiences, our reality is our reality, and that's ok, that's normal, and it's how we perceive, feel and view the world. That does not mean we cannot do something about the way we feel.
Dr Jill Bolte Taylor (2008), a brain scientist, describes emotions like the oceans waves. These waves last 90 seconds. After that, we're simply holding onto the feeling by re-stimulating our internal circuitry. These 90 seconds are a chemical response to our environment and situation. Once these 90 seconds pass, we are simply 'choosing' to stay in our own emotional loop.
Honestly, I encourage you to read that again. Imagine the fact that you, me, us, everyone is choosing to stay in your own emotional loop. When you feel down or emotional in any kind of way, after 90 seconds, it becomes our choice to hold on.
So how can we help ourselves?
That is the real question right? How can we help ourselves let go? This is the hard part because we are so wired and comfortable with holding on to the feeling, so we now have to learn ways of letting go, of dealing with the emotion once 90 seconds have passed. So we don't hold on to it for longer than we need to.
Don't think that I'm telling you to suppress your emotions because that can be even worse. A study done by the Harvard School of Public Health (Chapman et al., 2013) found that bottling up your emotions increased your chances of early onset death by 30% and the risk of being diagnosed with cancer increased by 70%. All from emotional suppression. So if you're a chronic suppressor (I'm raising my hand here because I do this all too often), then start learning these tools, because those stats scare me.
Countless research and experience in therapeutic practice and in psychological evidence have shown that the best way to dealing with bad days is to understand them. Where they come from, how you feel them in your body, labelling them and accepting them. I'd like to go through that in more depth.
- Understand the emotion- Become aware of what triggers you, what sets you off when you start to feel highly emotional and unable to get out of your own head and the internal circuitry we spoke about at the start. If you can start to know what will trigger you, try to understand why and spot it before it happens, then you're on the right track. It's important here that you need to take responsibility for what triggers you, it is your reality, after all. People aren't going to change for you, and you have to learn how to deal with and manage environments and situations within yourself.
- Identify the emotion in your body - Where is this emotion coming from in my body, and where am I feeling it? Emotions have a physiological response. We feel them in our bodies, and it is important not to try and shake this away but work out where it is coming from, by observing and being curious about your body's reaction. Sometimes just allowing yourself to feel is important, too, don't shove the emotion away. Find it in your body and let yourself embody it for 90 seconds.
- Label the emotion- If you can label what you feel, then you can work with it to understand and deal with it. When you start to label it, you might start with the base emotions, happy, sad, disgust, fear, surprise, and anger. Then work to increase your emotional vocabulary to things like impatient, furious, elated, terrified etc. By labelling the emotion, we can allow ourselves to have emotional clarity and work out what we want to do next.
- Accept them- Emotions are part of our psychology and our physiology. They are a natural human experience, that can enrich our lives if we allow them too. Allow your feelings to flow in and out like Dr Taylor's oceans waves, but train yourself not to judge your emotions or change them. They are telling you something. You can manage them through breathing, action and psychological understanding.
Some days are pretty shit. That's just a fact. We cannot always smell the roses, look at the rainbows and be happy 24/7, because that would more than likely be untrue to what is actually going on in our lives (I can't speak for you, but it certainly wouldn't be true for me). What we can do, though, is learn to manage and deal with our emotions and learn from them.
Much like the oceans waves, these bad days come and go, so don't forget when you're having a bad day that this will pass and you can do something about it.
I just want to add quickly, before this gets too long and you all get bored! That shit days don't have to linger in your system, or if you find yourself in a bad situation, one that is making you feel down, or something has upset you, you have options. Your attitude is in your control.
I like to allow myself a few moments to feel and understand the sad emotions that I'm feeling, then work out what I can do about it. Sometimes it's nothing, and I have to accept that.
For example, recently, I went through a tough few weeks. A few things were said to me that were very hurtful by someone very close to me. I took these things on because I felt I needed to change, and I worked through every scenario and situation where I might have gone wrong and tried to work out what I could have done better. For a while, I told myself it had to have been my fault, and I had to have done something wrong. But this self-blame did me no good, I sat in a cycle of confusion and hurt, and it wasn't helping me because what was said and what happened wasn't a true reflection of me. It was a reflection of the other person.
I couldn't understand why I could not get out of my own emotional loop, and I realised I hadn't quite learnt and understood the emotions. Usually, I bottle emotions up and refuse to cry or feel. But I've learnt over the last few years that this isn't good for you. So I let myself feel and be with my feelings. At the time, it felt pretty horrible, but I feel better about it now, because I let myself feel. I labelled the emotions sadness, confusion and hurt. I accepted that it was natural for me to feel this way, and then I let them pass.
I did some work on thinking and reflecting about myself, and how everything that transpired had made me feel, why it made me feel that way and I found the growth points. What could I learn from this? What do I want to change, and take into my future?
My way of moving through things is to learn and take action. That's just who I am. It doesn't mean you have to do the same. I wanted to share how I felt and how I worked through it. In case it could help someone do the same.
One thing I want everyone to take from reading through my own experience is that everyone is going through something. Whether that be big or small, a lot of the time, people project, and they put their shit on you and more often than not, if you really listen to what they're saying, it is about them. It is not about you. So the next time someone says something hurtful to you, take a step back and work out what they are actually saying about themselves. It works in the reverse to, be kind to people, no matter what, we shouldn't be going out of our way to make people feel sad or horrible. We should empower, encourage and support others. Be true to yourself, and work on staying in your own lane!
As always, thanks for reading.
Love, Sav x
P.S. Julia Murch Photography took this stunning photo and I'm forever grateful for her time, support and friendship x
Chapman, B. P., Fiscella, K., Kawachi, I., Duberstein, P., & Muennig, P. (2013). Emotion suppression and mortality risk over a 12-year follow-up. Journal of psychosomatic research, 75(4), 381–385. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychores.2013.07.014
Taylor, JB. (2008). My Stroke of Insight. Ted Talk. Video: https://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_my_stroke_of_insight?language=en
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