Surfing The Emotion Wave

Are you going through a tough time in your relationship right now?

It happens to all of us. Maybe you’ve been in this familiar situation before:

You’re going about your day, when suddenly, you get smacked in the face with an intense emotion. You feel overpowered by sadness, grief, or anger. But you’re at work, so rather than give in and cry, you stuff those emotions down. You try to stop them from happening all together.

The thoughts in your mind go something like this: “Stop! You can’t have these feelings at work!” “You’re such a loser, everyone will wonder what’s wrong with you!” “I’m so depressed, at this rate I don’t know if I’ll ever feel better.”

Sound familiar?

Did you know that these desperate attempts at suppressing our emotions can actually make them worse? That’s right! According to Drs. Matthew McKay and Aprilia West, when we feel intense feelings, we turn to coping strategies like judging ourselves for having emotions, worrying and ruminating, and acting on our emotional urges.

These things can actually prolong our emotions and make them more intense.

Emotions always come in waves.

That means they have a beginning, a middle, and an end, with a high point in the middle. You’ve probably observed this hundreds of times in your life. For example, while you were obviously devastated when your pet hamster died in kindergarten, you don’t think about him much anymore, and certainly not with the same emotional pain you did back then. The same is true for our adult emotions. In fact, the average emotion only lasts a few short minutes; that is, unless we give into it with worry, rumination, anger, or fear.

There is an alternative. Instead of running away from our emotions by trying not to feel them, we can turn toward our emotions, or “surf” them. By doing so, you will see that the emotions are short-lived and not nearly as intense as if we struggle to escape them. Here are some steps to try it out:

  1. Bring to mind a situation that is really upsetting you right now.

  2. Pay attention to any sensations do you feel in your body (shortness of breath, pit in my stomach, etc)

  3. Notice any emotions you feel along with this situation (sadness, anger, shame, etc)

  4. Sit with these emotions. See if you can exaggerate them. (We know this sounds counter-intuitive).

  5. Notice if you have any resistance coming up in your mind to feeling or exaggerating your emotions. If you do, look at this resistance with curiosity and acceptance. You could think to yourself, “I notice I am feeling like I shouldn’t be feeling this way right now.” Keep going! You’re doing great.

Continue feeling your emotions. Just be with them. Don’t judge. You’ll notice that they start to dissipate within a matter of minutes, and this way they don’t have the same control over you that they have in the past. You’ve got this!

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