Being Emotionally Prepared This Festive Season
“Feelings are not facts and we should therefore be very skeptical of believing everything we feel and think, at least until we have been willing to scrutinize ourselves a little.”
As the holidays draw nearer so does the stress that the festive season can bring. To help us to become prepared emotionally for the festive season and the year to come, 99FM’s MYD Heart spoke to well-known Namibian Clinical Psychologist Heidi Burmeister-Nel who has outlined for us a way to take the control in our life, manage our emotions so that they don’t manage us and become the Masters of our own Destinies.
Being emotionally prepared, equipped and in control by Heidi Burmeister-Nel
We all need time to reflect on behaviours and thoughts that may constrain, limit and sabotage our goals and our relationships and the upcoming holiday season offers us just such an opportunity.
We often don’t realise that what we do (or don’t do) is the result of our attitudes and thinking patterns; the direction into which we steer our cognitions. We are the captains of our ships and we therefore are much more in control of certain outcomes than what we often realise or want to admit. All vessels have a goal. Ships are vessels of transportation that need to get from point A to point B. Without knowing their end destination they are somewhat useless. Our behaviour and thoughts are very much the same and can be pretty much purposeless, or often self-destructive, without a goal and intentional steering process.
Many emotions have an evolutionary goal and origin which means that they are instinctive and rise up inside of us without us having much choice. Other emotions originate from past experiences that had an impact on us, whether we might remember these experiences and associated emotions or not. Fear and anger are examples of our instinctive autonomous reactions. Their purpose is primarily to signal to potential threat and danger and to mobilise the person in to some kind of behaviour that acts as a protection mechanism. Emotions and emotional memories that are formed without us being conscious of them can play a big part in everyday experiences. Without us knowing that a specific reaction, opinion or feeling has originated from past experiences, it may bubble up in the here and now and influence us in very distinctive ways. Examples of this is when we in the first few milliseconds of our perceiving something we decide whether we like it or not, thus, forming an opinion of it, or having a strong feeling of like or dislike. These opinions might be shaped by previous experiences long lost to the conscious mind. Despite the origin of emotions, emotions always provide valuable information. They provide information about our experience of threat as well as our evaluation and interpretation of, or our meaning making, of situation. Sadly, the immediate evaluation or interpretation (the way that we make sense of or think about a situation) are not always apparent, and we are often only aware of the emotion. The stronger the emotions, usually the stronger our response and actions to that situation / person that triggered that emotions. Emotions can be an incredible strong force that determines our behaviour. When emotions cause distress and start impeding on functioning, productivity and relationships, we need to find ways to change the severity of that emotions so that our functioning is not impeded.
Sadly, yet realistically, we have all been in situations where we have reacted in ways that, in the moment felt absolutely justified and rational, while we regretted what or how we expressed ourselves a while later.
What we hopefully learn from these incidents are that while emotions are always valid and can make sense considering their origin, emotions can get us in to deep trouble! If they take the driver’s seat of the mind, we pile up problems far more than what we can deal with. Emotions are not facts, despite their informative nature. They should call us to self-awareness and, instead of impulsively luring us into operation mode, rather activate reflective thought.
Strong emotions are like a strong force that bubbles up inside our gut, and if we succumb to them, will boil over in behaviour that often will regret. What we need to do is to become aware and mindful of the force of emotions, that boiling gut feeling, and to use it as the cue to immediate and consciously / intentionally activate our rational thoughts. The analogy of a traffic lights still makes it easiest to explain this mental act … STOP, THINK, and then DO / GO. Modulating our impulses is imperative to our mood, functional relationships and to a more harmonious life and society.
Stop – Become self-aware and literally focus on what sensation you experience in your body. Breathe and slow down what is happening in your body. Calm impulses and urges that want to take over – feel them, but take a few seconds to become aware and to not act impulsively.
Think – Ask yourself what is happening and what am I feeling – try giving a name to the emotions. Often we need to reflect on the following questions to evaluate whether we have a rational perspective: Do I have evidence for the conclusions that I am making; What would be the effect on me if I keep on thinking the way I’m thinking; Is it truly as bad as I am making it out to be (is it really the end of the world)?; Can I really not stand it, or is only me telling myself that?; Do I really always need to have things go my way?; Can I be open to other perspectives without needing to defend mine so aggressively?; Am I possibly exaggerating?; Is this a case of setting limits to prevent being taken advantage of, or do I need to become more accommodating / flexible?
Do – After giving your own thinking some thought, decide what is the best and rational choice of behaviour. This might include adjusting some physical aspects of your behaviour like talking in a softer voice, adjusting your body language, softening your eye contact and just slowing down your talking pace. It might also include making a conscious choice of becoming a better listener and expressing yourself in a better way. You may also need to be more assertive (not aggressive) if you are being bullied or your boundaries disrespected. Often the ‘doing’ part challenges us to move out of our comfort zones and to try out behaviour that is not always second nature – for example, if we often lose our temper, we now need to act calmer; if we often want to interrupt other people, we need to be patient and learn to listen; if we often shy away from voicing our needs and opinions, we might need to stretch ourselves and risk speaking out.
This process of monitoring and steering your thoughts and emotions requires one to discern between them and to respond appropriately to the moods / feelings, motivations and desires. It helps us to become conscious of what we are thinking about ourselves, other people and the world. By altering self-destructive or irrational thought patterns, we alter our emotional experience. Feelings largely follow the direction of thought patterns.
Feelings are never wrong. They are certainly valid, intense and the experience of them very much real. They are however, primarily the consequence of preceding cognitions.
We certainly do not have the ability to robotically control emotions, neither the choice of always feeling what emotion we feel, when, where, and how intense it is. Yet, we can have some influence over the duration and intensity if we jump into the steering seat of our cognitions and change some gears. We certainly can have much more of an impact on how we will act in certain situations and to not surrender to intense or overwhelming emotions.
When we learn the art and master the ability to discriminate among feelings, and the main driving force behind then (the thoughts) we are working towards becoming masters of our DESTINY. When we realise that we all do have that ability to regulate our thoughts, feelings and actions, we can start mastering how we act in the world.
We do eventually become what we think. Feelings are not facts and we should therefore be very sceptical of believing everything we feel and think, at least until we have been willing to scrutinize ourselves a little.
May you practice the art of becoming the skipper of your destiny and steer yourself in the right direction whenever you lose your way.