Show me a way out; perhaps there is one?
for this time seems to be feeding on me;
long before it is gone, it will change me into
a living corpse: a body that forgets to feel.
Show me a way out; perhaps there is one?
for this fate seems forever binding despite
the choices, despite the redemptive intention;
I seldom want my life to be left alone to chance.
I wrote this poem in my diary on 15th May 2020. It had been a tough week, and these words best represented my thoughts and feelings. As I look back, I realize this poem does not only express what was alive in me but many people during the pandemic and the lockdown. Amid the slowdown and plenty of time for connection with loved ones, we lived in constant uncertainty, worry, and sadness. These unpleasant feelings brought a lot of discomforts, and many of us navigated them with lots of difficulties.
What was responsible for the hard time we had managing our unpleasant feelings? Was it just the pandemic? At least, I am far from thinking so. If anything, that period held up a mirror to show us our inability to deal with our hopelessness, anxiety, afraid, annoyance, worry, anger, and sadness (and recognize them in the first place). Have we gotten any better at it? We never will until we see our unpleasant emotions as obstacles and contribute to a culture that enables toxic positivity.
While there is no one specific antidote to the unpleasantness that may overwhelm us from time to time, there are a few ways with which we can check in with ourselves whenever we feel gripped by our unpleasant thoughts and emotions.
- The first thing we might want to remind ourselves of is that we are not the only ones who experience unplesant emotions. Yet, it also helps to hold a compassionate space for us to feel what we feel.
- Next, recognizing unpleasant emotions will help us understand the message they try to give us. Often our limited vocabulary prevents us from understanding our own experiences and what we might need. For example, we are angry when we find something problematic. We feel disgusted when we try to reject something we find unhealthy, while sadness is a sign that we have experienced some loss and are longing to connect with a loved one. Recognizing what we feel allows us a deeper understanding of our experiences.
- What we can then do, is take a step further to accept the thoughts and emotions that we experience. Denial, repression, and ignorance make matters worse by bottling what we feel inside of us and making us react eventually—in uncalled-for ways. As humans, we have the power of acceptance and reflection, so we might as well exercise that. By accepting the state of our being, we can acknowledge what is alive in us. By reflecting, we can uncover what our thought processes and emotional states could be telling us. What is making us uncomfortable, sad, worried, or anxious? Are we making things worse by avoiding, blaming, and complaining? What unmet needs of ours are causing our unpleasant emotions? What could those needs possibly be, and how can we try fulfilling them? These questions can help us.
While awareness (in itself) is a strategy for management when it comes to our emotions, what has almost always helped me manage my emotions well, express them in constructive ways, and gain perspective, is by having meaningful conversations. Most of the time, we stay inside our heads and play some thoughts repeatedly. While none of us are exempt from this phenomenon, we can find a way out by talking to a trusted person. A friend, a family member, a mentor, or a partner—someone we can trust to listen to us non-judgmentally, ask us questions, and provide us with some insights about our situation.
If we find having conversations difficult when overwhelmed, we can find other means to help us express our emotions. Writing, exercising some form of art, and expressing ourselves through music are some engagements that can help us reconnect with ourselves in trying to manage our discomfort. It is just a matter of finding out what works for us.
In figuring out ways to deal with the discomfort that unpleasant thoughts and emotions can bring, we also need to develop patience. In a world of convenience and fast-paced solutions, we might want to fix our thoughts and feelings as conveniently and quickly as possible. But that might not help us in the long run. We may be living in a world full of modern infrastructures and technological aids, but our biological wiring is a result of hundreds and thousands of years of evolution. So, we need to give those thoughts and emotions time to sink in. We need to make ourselves a bit more open to experiencing those feelings before they start letting their grip on us and leaving us more resilient for the next time we go through something similar.
If we think about it, discomfort does not make life inconvenient. Not recognizing it, understanding its cause, and inability to deal with discomfort—are the causes of our inconvenience. As Susan David, the author of Emotional Agility, says, “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”