How taking control of your emotions can lead to greater joy in your experiences, relationships, and life goals.
I recently completed an 8 week workshop on, “Mindfulness”, at a local yoga studio. The premise of the workshop was to encourage us to engage in mindfulness in all areas of our life - which essentially means to be present in the here and now, enjoying your moment without judgement of how you got there or anticipation of what comes next. Our lives are often so busy coming and going and preparing -taking time to care for everyone else, that often our own needs become last or set aside.
I have decided to share some of the ideas that were most poignant during my sessions, and add some more of my own researched resources, in hopes that sharing them will help you on your journey as well.
What I have learned is that mindfulness can enhance your experiences, relationships, and personal goals.
Window of Tolerance
One of the first sessions I attended, explored what is called the, "Window of Tolerance", based on M.A.S.T (Mindful Awareness Stabilization Training) program, by St. Michael's Hospital. The Window of Tolerance is the threshold in your life where you are able to handle emotion, and things come at you, with ease. When pushed outside of your boundaries, by life events or people around you, you can often react in ways that are not healthy or helpful.
As you can see in the illustration, when outside the window of tolerance, you can react one of two ways: Hyper-arousal which includes feelings of being overwhelmed, anger, anxiety and unorganized thoughts; or Hypo-Arousal which is basically shut down mode where you experience shame, disconnection, and lack of coherent thought. The goal is to use mindfulness to widen your window of tolerance, so that you can experience greater joy and better handle life no matter the circumstance.
Using Mindfulness to, "Name It"
The first step in widening your window of tolerance is observing yourself in various situations so you can begin to understand how you react, why you react, and see how you can control and change those things. Understanding your feelings and what triggers them is the first step to gaining control over them.
According to American Psychologist, Paul Ekman, we have 6 primary emotions that we understand as Fear, Anger, Happiness, Sadness, Surprise and Disgust. Each of these emotions, however, can be experienced in a wide range of intensity and forms. Below is an image of The Emotion Wheel, which you will notice, divides emotions into many of the things we can experience on a daily basis. The goal is to practice labeling your emotions as you experience them so that you are able to understand what brings you outside your window of tolerance.
I encourage you to check out Eckman's Atlas of Emotion, which is an online interactive tool for emotional awareness.
It is important to recognize that you can experience several emotions at a time. The goal in beginning to control your response is to focus on the emotion that is most prominent in a situation.
Using Mindfulness to, "Claim It"
Once you are able to name your emotions, you are ready to claim them. Claiming your emotions means taking ownership for how you feel and responsibility for what you do with the feelings. We may not be able to control what we feel, but we can control what we do with those feelings in the moment; especially when we are pushed outside out window of tolerance.
A tangible way to track your emotions is to keep a journal or a mental checklist. Understanding and changing our responses doesn't happen over night. Start by taking point form notes about your experiences during the week:
1. What was your experience?
2. How did you feel?
3. How intense were your feelings?
4. Would you like to change your response in the future?
*I feel it is important to mention here that emotions themselves are not something to feared or changed. Part of claiming our emotions is recognizing what we feel and that it is neither a right or wrong response, but simply your own. The aim to control how we respond is so that when we are pushed outside our window of tolerance we do not allow our emotions to affect our behaviour in a way that hurts ourselves or another person. We call this, being Emotionally Intelligent.*
Using Mindfulness to "Reframe It"
Now that you have named your emotions and claimed them, how do you go about reframing them? In situations where you hope to respond differently, what techniques can you use to help bring change?
I absolutely love Carla Naumburg's, (PhD). Mindful S.N.A.C.K illustration. She suggests reframing comes in the form of resetting yourself when faced with an overwhelming situation and responding with openness and kindness.
Additional techniques that help us STOP, include:
-Going for a quick walk if your situation allows
-Calling a friend you trust
-Using your five senses to focus on things you see, hear, smell, touch and taste around you.
All of these things bring you into the present moment and allow you time to refocus and become more objective in your response.
Another example of reframing is to engage in, "Optimistic Thinking" which essentially encourages you to reconsider your circumstances with a positive frame of mind.
You may not be able to change your situation but you can give it a positive perspective.
One way to achieve this is to avoid using absolutes in your thinking. For example, when approaching a situation, entertaining words such as, "I will Always/Never..." will set you up for unrealistic expectations and prevent you from achieving attainable goals.
Avoiding the use of words such as, "Should" and replace them with, "Could" will also help you recognize the expectations you are putting on yourself and others, that may not be realistic or fair, and replacing them with options.
For tangible learners, this is a good time to add points to your journal or checklist that will help you with your reframing. For example:
5. What is the positive in my situation?
6. What COULD I do to improve my circumstances?
Experiences, Relationships, and Life Goals
Practicing mindfulness when harnessing our emotions is a process that takes time, and is ever evolving. The rewards of doing so can lead to greater joy in your daily experiences, and positively impact your relationships and accomplishment of life goals.
Engaging in, "Glass half full" thinking, does not mean you give up being practical or realistic. It simply means to allow yourself to see your experiences on the backdrop of hope with consideration for positive alternatives when it comes to possible outcomes. Doing so will help you enjoy the moment and find confidence in your decisions, without worry, because you know you will be able to withstand whatever life brings your way.
Avoiding absolutes is extremely beneficial when it comes to communicating with others and conflict resolution. Avoiding phrases like, "You never... I always", can put relationship struggles in perspective. It stops the blame game and carries an understanding that in fact sometimes, each person does contribute in an alternate way. Recognizing how you respond to conflict will help you maintain objectivity the next time you feel overwhelmed, and taking time to S.T.O.P can help you respond with kindness to both yourself and others involved.
Gina Rider gives some excellent examples of how reframing can positively impact your decision making , in her article, "How Reframing Your Thoughts Can Change Your Life". She points out the following examples of how changing your thoughts can affect your ability to reach our goals:
I'm always going to struggle financially.
Financial struggles are hard, but i can make one choice today to build up my nest egg."
My to-do list is so long that I'll never get anything done.
If I do one thing at a time, I'll surprise myself by how much I can accomplish"
In the above examples, reframing allows for opportunity to move forward with a goal. Taking one step at a time, having courage in your abilities, and not allowing your emotions to shut you down, will lead to greater joy in accomplishment, even if it is not as fast or high as you are wanting it to go.
Overall, I wanted to share these tips with you because they have been incredibly helpful for me in my own journey. How does this relate to my fight with Candida? Making such a drastic diet change, and facing the seriousness of my health was an emotionally and mentally challenging process. There were days I wanted to give up, and there still are discouraging days. I had to change my relationship with food, and ultimately my relationship with myself, for the purpose of getting better and growing into the person I wanted to be. I had to reframe my thinking, taking one step at a time and focus on the things I could control, verses what was out of my control. Loosing 100 lbs. was emotional in its own right, watching my body change and learning to be kind to myself for all that is unique and special about me. Relationships with people also changed as I needed additional support and had to make choices to spend time with people who encouraged me towards my goals rather than pull me away from them.
So now that I know these things and practice them do I always stay within my window of tolerance? Nope! but I am getting better at recognizing what brings me to my limits, and it gets easier to S.T.O.P when my situation requires my refocus. What I CAN tell you, is that I am happier with myself, kinder to myself, and more specific and patient with my goals that I used to be. When I start to feel pressure I put on myself, I remind myself that MINDFULNESS MATTERS. Be present in the here and now, enjoy your moments. Give up judging yourself with how you got where you are, and stop worrying about what will come next.
I want these things for you too, friends. Try using mindfulness to Name it, Claim it, and Reframe it. You will be amazed at how taking control of your emotions can lead to greater joy in your experiences, relationships, and life goals.
Tomorrow can wait, Yesterday is gone, we only have TODAY.