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Coping with Negative Emotions in a COVID19 era

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Arguably no one around the world is short of reasons to feel stress, anxiety, or any other negative emotion. The number of confirmed cases continues to rise. There is suffering and pain all around us. Our loved ones are dying alone. Jobs are being lost. Healthcare systems are stretched thin and there is still no cure in sight. Our future is uncertain. Our ‘new normal’ is probably one of the most stress-filled times in recent history. So, how can we deal with this uncertainty, fear, and anxiety?

Meditation can be particularly useful. It teaches us to be with whatever arises in our experiences. As we practice, we can improve our ability to be calm and composed in the face of negative emotions.

When we feel anger, fear, sadness, or worry, our natural response is to do something to remove the feeling or discomfort. Since we were children, as soon as we express a negative emotion or discomfort, our parents, caregivers, and loved ones would attempt to alleviate it. This, coupled with phrases like “Boys don’t cry”, implicitly and explicitly taught us not to confront and feel our negative emotions. So, now, instead of dealing with our emotions, we project them onto others, onto work, or, worst still, we suppress them.

I am personally grateful for having people in my life that I am able to speak to about negative emotions. And this, for me, is a great way to deal with negative emotions; but it is also important to simply feel and be with these negative emotions. To go towards them and embrace them in their entirety. Be present with them. Instead of resisting them.

In my meditation practice, I use the acronym “RAID” which stands for Recognise, Accept, Investigate, and Dissociate. To acknowledge and let go of any anger, hurt, sadness, or worry that does not serve me.

Step 1:  Recognise that you are feeling it. A lot of the time, we are not actually conscious of the fact that we are stressed or in a bad mood. Very often, it is only after we have acted out that we realise we’re in a bad mood. So it is important to recognise what we are feeling.

Step 2:  Accept it unconditionally. Not judging ourselves for feeling it or saying “I shouldn’t feel this” or “I would rather feel something else.” Not even blaming someone else for it. But instead to just be with the feeling and accept that that is what it is like to be ‘you’ right there and then. Accept your reality as it is, not as you want or wish it to be. It is this pushing away and resistance that actually amplifies negative emotions. I find it is useful to say things like “Welcome to the Party!” to negative emotions or to ask myself “Can I just be with this?”

We don’t need to get into ‘why’ we are feeling a certain emotion — we just need to simply accept that we are feeling it. But, of course, some emotions might be harder to accept than others. Here, if it is helpful, we might choose to recognise the utility of all emotions. After all, we feel and have all negative emotions for a reason. It is our body’s way of signaling to us that something is not right in our environment. For example, loneliness can be seen as a signal to have more social contact or connection, while anger can be seen as a signal of harm to something/someone we care about. In my experience, recognising this utility of emotions makes them easier to accept. We don’t have to change them, we just need to recognise what they’re saying.

Step 3: After accepting an emotion or feeling into our experience, we must Investigate it. In doing this, it is useful to be interested in the emotion. Not in an attempt to get rid of the emotion, but to bring it so close so we can see it clearly. Specifically, you might investigate: (i) where exactly you’re feeling the emotion (for instance, your heart/chest, head, stomach etc), (ii) if there are any thoughts associated with the emotion, or (iii) whether the pace and shortness of your breath has changed. What is most important here is that we understand what it feels like to have that emotion.

Step 4: Investigating an emotion will bring clarity and naturally allow you to Dissociate from it. Negative emotions can be very powerful, but with the work that you have done to get here you will soon find ease. For all intents and purposes, you most likely will continue to feel the emotion — the relevant thoughts and sensations will remain. In fact, the circumstance which caused the emotion won’t change. However, we can be with the emotions and the circumstance with more calm, composure, and equanimity. We can cease reacting as or from the emotion; instead, we can skillfully respond to the situations before us with more love, compassion, and understanding. We can be more at peace while in the midst of chaos.

“The ultimate gift of meditation is that it helps us come home to a space of presence that is large enough for whatever we encounter. And it’s from that space that we can…live from who we most want to be.” — Tara Brach.

Written by Fola Pinheiro.

Fola is a lawyer and writer. Three years ago, he began meditating in order to improve his psychological wellbeing. He also takes an avid interest in psychology and philosophy. If you want to read more of his work, you can subscribe to his weekly newsletter on meditation, called ‘Being Present’, through this link.

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