The next 2-3 months will dig up a number of skeletons we did not know we had in our emotional closets. The deterioration of our safety, well-being, and control over our lives will highlight personal issues that would otherwise remain latent, out of reach. With the “social isolation” and “work-from-home” time on our hands, it certainly presents an opportunity. We can change the hidden stories that manage us, establish emotional hygiene, mindfulness and other daily routines towards better us.
Merely killing time trying to escape our fears, suppress emotional discomforts via quick-fixes and external actions would keep the internal causes of our destructive emotions intact. In fact, firm them up via endless repetitions, escalate. Thus, reduce our immune response, hinder our reasoning and freeze vital decision-making. Besides, indulging in destructive emotions is, basically, a recipe for self-baked mental traumas that would impact us for the rest of our lives.
“Put your own oxygen mask first before helping others”
The world is getting out of hands. No one is safe. Work issues, money issues, health issues (even if probable). Even “if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs” — you can still feel the contagion, the emotional one. The pain of fear and anger that consumes those who think they cannot fight it. Well, the responsibility relies on those who can.
Remember, the mystical “presence”? The holy grail of leadership promoted by coaches worldwide. Somehow, if you are authentically balanced it helps others to come to their senses. Fake it though, and your actual agitation will spread instead. Hence, emotionally, we cannot really help others before we help ourselves. Imagine a scared boss “helping” employees stay calm [so they can save the business and reduce boss’es own fears].
Hence, step #1 is to balance our own state of mind. The rest of “good deeds” are organic outcomes:
- they cannot replace #1 (they would act as procrastination, escape from our own issues)
- they are far more productive once #1 is established (based on clear motivation, high energy, reason, etc.)
Still, the most aggressive promoters of “emotional support” or “compassion” are far from being mindful of their own state. The safeguard question here is whether anyone actually asked for the “help” we wish to offer? Not ready for the answer? Don’t do it. 🤣
Meaningful target: “non-production”
Achieving mental balance in a yoga class, during mindfulness meditation or in any isolated setting/via quick-fix is nice. It does not mean, however, we will not be crippled by fear and anger next time someone coughs nearby… Balancing our state of mind means “non-production” of destructive emotions in situations we care about. Usually, these are the ones that have triggered emotional responses before. “Non-production” in contexts that matter means we keep our cool when reading scary news, we sleep like babies, etc. It does not mean we lost all of our emotions, became robots or idiots. It means we addressed the internal causes that maintained fear (or other emotion) in specific contexts:
- we became aware of the emotion, deconstructed and understood it,
- we changed obsolete views that had supported the emotion,
- reframed past stories and situations that had triggered it (there can be a number of them),
- replaced our reactions with compassionate, ecological ones.
We naturally respond to potentially or inevitably dangerous situations constructively. Not because of ethical “we are good people” dam that keeps suppressed fear or anger at bay. Because that’s who we are or have become. At least in contexts that we have looked at, and become emotionally comfortable with.
If we face a new situation that provokes a strong and persistent emotional response, we know the emotional regulation drill. Notice, investigate, understand, fix. Repeat until emotional discomfort dissolves and tensions are replaced by a warm feeling of contentment and gratitude.
Ain’t no 15-minute effort
The tougher the external problem the more widespread the old views, habits, and micro-traumas that get triggered and hijack our state of mind. The types of issues that cannot be easily tackled by taking a breath, a 15-minute meditation or a talk to a coach. Investigation and reactions “rewiring” may take hours, days or weeks of intensive effort.
My humble experience also hints on a systems approach you can both understand and personally verify. A holistic framework of tools to work with your culture, beliefs/non-believing, emotional issues, etc. Preferably, actually embodied by an existing person. Someone you can interact with, or at least learn from. Keeping in mind the non-production of destructive emotions self-check.
What are the practical steps we can take to tackle fear (or any other undesired emotion) and restore balance? Choose the strongest emotion you can notice (become aware of) at the moment — it has to be dealt with first. Otherwise, it will undermine our efforts to subdue other (lesser) issues.
Theoretic understanding of “fear”
Let’s take a closer look at this artificially created stream of mental activity. It is normally aimed to avoid by all means, reject, or even destroy unwanted events in the future, the future in general, real or imaginary causes of such events, the time, other people, “imperfect” ourselves and the world. Events may be real or imaginary. Neither, however, dictate our fearful responses. Our automated reactions and their internal causes do.
Each specific fear is rooted in our dependencies, accumulated reactions, memories of traumas, obsolete views, etc. Sometimes, smaller fears are supported by larger ones, or other issues not obvious at the moment. E.g. a fear of illness would have a set of personal issues supporting and amplifying it: fear of pain and body dysfunctions, expectations of related troubles, anxiety about the future, fear of death, dependency on money, well-being, anger, frustration, sadness, etc. Something like:
No wonder the feeling we experience is so discomforting. The good news is we can actually listen to what it tells us and do something about it. Even if the external threats are growing and the future is unclear.
Fear does not arise “naturally”
The advice we often hear is “Fear and anxiety are natural in such times. Just track your breathing, body signals, be aware…” This approach may help:
- Pro practitioners with an established compassionate worldview and emotional regulation routines who have already extinguished fear and can dissolve its residual repetitions simply by noticing it
- Those who just need “a pill”, temporary distraction (until something triggers the fear again).
These micro-practices are of little use to someone who actually wishes to extinguish specific fear.
The only natural part of the fear is that it inevitably arises if there are internal causes for it. Not merely because there is external danger. If we change the causes, what will naturally arise is calm confidence, constructive alertness, etc.
Practice: “on-demand” emotional regulation
OK, we have:
- noticed the emotion, e.g. fear of illness
- read about a different theoretic look at it (from a non-violent, holistic viewpoint).
Step 3 of this recurring process is Practice: adopting the eco-theory to change reactions.
We can use any emotional regulation instruments or frameworks of our choice, as long as they help us achieve the non-production target. Reframing, analytical meditation, prayers, affirmations, etc.:
- Process specific reaction and its causes “vertically” through all instances, e.g. all cases of fear, anger or jealousy
- Repeatedly apply eco views until they sink in, e.g. equality of people, non-violence
- Practice, cultivate ecological, constructive responses, e.g. gratitude, compassion, patience.
One of the approaches that make sense to me: we break down and research each constituting state, locate causes, past repetitions of the emotion in similar scenarios. We compare eco-theory with our actual experiences, apply new views to reframe the way we see the current and past situations, train our minds to change reactions (using psychological or “spiritual” tools of our preference).
Emotional regulation cycle [example]
(yours may be different, as long as it does the job)
A successful ceasing of fear would bring up a peace of mind, joy, and gratitude, remove ruminating, recover good sleep, etc. — even if external conditions and future danger probability have not changed. Naturally, we regain our resourcefulness, ability to skillfully deal with the external situation.
Here are some of the “usual suspects” to address so they stop contributing to emotional background:
Fear of death
Let’s not be shy: it is our natural reaction to death near us or even a distant threat to our lives. Our minds strongly object to such undesired future and anything that may lead to it. The stream of mental activity is not limited to a biological, instinctive response. Our consciousness fights for the life we are attached to, unmet expectations, every wish we depend on, against every pain or loss dying implies. It is not just a momentary scare, but a lasting and strong emotional undercurrent.
Despite its powerful impact, the fear of death is no different to any other destructive mental activity — it ceases once its causes and habitual repetitions within a given context are dealt with.
Anger, hate, blaming others
We hate the world, the undesired situation, people and ourselves. Basically, wishing ill, mentally trying to harm, destroy what seems to be causing our current troubles. No comment.
Blaming someone goes far beyond acknowledging their responsibility. Instead of acting constructively, holding someone accountable based on reason, we unleash our destructive emotions and aggressive responses. Based on artificial, non-existing “blame”…
Sadness, self-pity, apathy
If we cannot control the outside world or subdue the attachments fuelling the attempts, our minds divert the impact to the ineffective instrument — ourselves. Our consciousness is forced to harm ourselves if it cannot have what it desires. We are caught in a self-destructing process of thinking less of ourselves; attacking inept, unfortunate, defeated us. We pity ourselves, stop ourselves from doing what’s good for us, basically, punishing ourselves and others.
Subduing sadness, self-pity, and apathy requires updating our views of ourselves and addressing specific attachments pushing us to self-harm. It is also often connected to our dependence on “fair treatment” and expectations — our versions, obviously.
Offense by the “unfair” world, jealousy
The feeling of being unfairly treated by someone, or the world. We feel offended, unjustly deprived of security and control we deem “entitled to”. Our minds attack the “unjust” world, “unfair” situation, everyone and everything we blame for causing it. We feel jealousy about not having the safety or not able to fulfill our wishes.
The solution requires reviewing the roots of our claims to the world, people, and ourselves. Clearing the past cases of offenses or jealousy; also checking our dependencies on fairness, justice, wish-fulfillment/well-being, ideals.
Exaggerated control of the situation
A clinging to a single desired way the situation can progress is a mental grasp that attacks all deviations from the “positive” scenario. The mind is obsessed with squeezing the situation into a preferred vector, get the result at all costs and fight off anyone who interferes. Take control!
Ignoring our compromised state of mind and enforcing external-only solutions normally leads to less desirable outcomes, to say the least.
We are far more productive and creative in handling a crisis situation if we are able to accept it is not going our way. Let it go internally, stop grasping at outcomes, mentally forcing others to do what we want or punishing them for non-delivery. Be able to accept any outcome without producing destructive emotions.
Daily emotional hygiene
Emotional hygiene helps us maintain balance, prevent afflictions from maturing, stockpiling and causing major interference. Basic routines like morning tune-in rituals, monitoring and emotional regulation micro-practices throughout the day, unwinding before sleep, — keep our emotions in check, do not let our minds wander and indulge in destructive states too much.
Morning state-of-mind check
Are we in shape for a productive day? How do we feel? It does not have to be a dedicated mindfulness session. A glimpse inside during morning coffee, headlines scrolling, etc. may help recognize destructive states early and prevent them from interfering with our day. Even if we do not have time to address it fully, the very fact of recognizing the state improves our awareness of related bias and resistance to acting on it.
Sometimes we can remember our dreams after waking up. Vividly and fully, or just partially and indistinctly. Residuals of emotions we experienced during the dream may still be with us. The opportunity here is to reach the causes of the emotions revealed by the dream “simulation”. Dream scenario may be totally unrealistic. But the emotions are ours, produced by our inclinations. It is our choice whether to let the causes remain and wait to be triggered by real-life events or address them.
Maintaining balance during the day
We monitor our state before, during and after daily interactions. Use “on-demand” micro-practices to restore our balance, like observing our breath, taking a break, mentally stepping away from a triggering context, etc.
BTW, digital, not face-to-face communications usually provide an agreeable gap for a response we can use for brief introspection and response fine-tuning.
Unwinding before sleep
Healthy sleep rarely benefits from agitation and restless mental activity. An effort to subdue our untimely anxieties may be required before we go to bed. Sometimes, the scope of the issue may require more than one evening to tackle.
Quick-fixing sleep disorders by distracting or drugging the mind may offer temporary relief, but the effect usually wears off if the root problem is not addressed. Guided meditation mobile apps may act both ways: support emotional regulation, remind us about eco-views, or just temporarily switch our attention to soothing sounds or an attractive voice. It is worth considering not only the words of the narrative, but an implicit, actually embodied outlook inadvertently mediated by the narrator.
I am so sorry, but I have to mention this:
Mindfulness practice alone is not a silver bullet
Making a destructive emotion go away just by becoming aware of it works only for fleeting residual reactions that have no real internal causes supporting them. If a distressing emotion does not go away or even increases during introspection a wider spectrum of instruments, not singled out practice may be required to handle it.
Reach of self-awareness
The reach of mindfulness is limited by our currently active emotions. Hence, it is a continuous process of tackling greater agitations to be able to discern lesser ones.
Is a great mind-training exercise that both improves non-engagement, restraint from reacting to phenomena and familiarizes us with ourselves and our responses. However, unless the sole purpose of the practice is temporary relaxation, we have to consider a complete set of instruments of an integral system, not an estranged practice.
The information is provided for general information purposes only. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition consult with the professional healthcare provider.