7 Steps to Emotional Balance and Dealing with Difficult Emotions
All your emotions are necessary. Each emotion provides valuable information about you, which is why it is so important to pay attention to how you feel. Checking in with yourself on an emotional level is crucial. Being aware of your emotional state is crucial to achieving emotional balance and well-being.
That being said, it isn’t always easy to pay attention to yourself and figure out what is happening. This is especially true in emotionally difficult and painful situations. The kind of situations that cause suffering and fear is like a monster waiting to trap you.
These situations provoke doubt, stress, fear, expectations, and insecurity. Not knowing what to do or how to act can paralyze you. So often, this type of situation traps you in a spiral of distress and apathy. What can you do when these situations become untenable? How should you act when you feel destroyed, at a dead end? How can you face these negative emotions that are holding you captive?
“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”
The psychiatrist and professor of psychobiology Vicente Simon, extensively researched and investigated Buddhist psychology. He came up with a procedure that can help us in these situations: the 7 steps to emotional balance. This is a series of exercises designed to alleviate suffering, avoid psychological damage from an emotional shock, and prevent inappropriate actions that can damage others. These are the seven steps for emotional balance:
To reach emotional balance, hit pause
When you hear bad news, get into a fight, or feel disappointed, the first step is to stop. When you feel like an intense and unpleasant emotion arises, you have to stop. Take a moment and direct all your attention to the emotional movement that is happening inside.
It won’t be easy at first. That’s normal. Stopping a process that has been on auto-pilot for years isn’t easy. That’s because it goes against everything you’ve done before. In fact, emotions usually make you act in an abrupt and thoughtless way. So, instead of ending up with an emotional explosion, you need to stop, give yourself time to reflect, and value what is happening internally.
If you do this, you can throw a wrench in your autopilot. Then it will be possible to respond in a different way than you normally do. That being said, it is important to practice because it’s possible you won’t get it right away. To help yourself along, try to practice in a place that makes you feel calm and relaxed.
Breathe deep, relax
Once you’ve hit pause, the next step is to breathe. You can achieve emotional balance by paying attention to your breath. Notice those areas of the body where the emotion is manifesting itself.
At times when you feel hyperactive or stressed, it is important to breathe deeply. Deep breathing will help you calm down and re-connect with yourself. The goal is to take ten breaths a minute. Obviously, you won’t be able to do it right away. If you are already upset, you might take up to 30 breaths per minute. The important thing is to practice and focus on it.
On the other hand, when you experience difficult emotions, you might notice that your heart beats faster. You also might feel a mild pressure in your chest, or tension in your belly. Whatever the case, the important thing is not to try and avoid these physical sensations. Often, your emotions speak to you through your body. It’s all about figuring out what they are and soothing them through breath. If you breathe and relax, you can reduce the physical sensations that your emotions bring.
Be aware of your emotion
This step consists of familiarizing yourself with the emotion on an experiential, not just intellectual, level. In other words, feel the emotion, and everything that comes along with it, as a direct experience. For example, how the emotion expresses itself physically.
Next, you can imagine or observe which situation or situations might trigger that emotion. Is it a specific person, or maybe a thought? Or a memory that you have? The key is to figure out the origin of the emotion and observe all its related aspects.
Then, we have to identify what emotion you are dealing with to achieve emotional balance. In other words, name it. Is it anger, sadness, jealousy, or maybe fear? Some researchers believe that when you name your emotions, they lose their power. Lastly, to further identify the emotion, you can ask yourself different exploratory questions. Ask your self how would that emotion express itself, what necessity is it hiding, and what does it motivate you to do.
Being aware of your emotion means observing it without judgement. That way, you can get to know the emotional experience up close.
Accept the experience, allow the emotion
This step consists of accepting the emotion without judgment. Not only that but allowing the emotion to be, without repressing it or putting up resistance.
This won’t be fun at the beginning. After all, some of these emotions are unpleasant. However, it is important to get to know it and be able to manage it later. So, be a spectator of the rejection that the experience awakens in you. Neutrally observe the attempts to escape the situation and defend yourself. Most importantly, do nothing. Let the emotion express itself, just as it is. That way, you give the emotion space and recognize it as part of you to find emotional balance.
Be kind to yourself
In the midst of this profound process, don’t forget to take care of yourself. In these seven steps, you are dealing with the things that harm you, weigh you down, and overwhelm you. During all of this, you must also connect with the part of yourself that is whole and healthy. Get in touch with that part that works through affection and love. If you don’t take care of yourself, you damage the strength you need to reach emotional health and well-being.
Now, it might be difficult to embrace yourself and treat yourself with love. If you find it hard, then go to the people who are always there by your side. Seek out the people who are always willing to help you. They will make it easier to relieve your stress and anxiety.
Let go of the emotion
By now, the intensity of the emotion should diminish, little by little. That will allow you to separate yourself from it. By doing that, you can make a distinction between you and the emotion. You are not your emotion, you are just housing it for a while.
It is important to realize that you will only be able to let go of your emotion if you leave it out of your internal dialogue. You can’t force the emotion to disappear. You have to let it dissolve on its own. In that sense, a key strategy to limit the emotion’s power is to recognize that you are not the emotion. The emotion is not you.
Act, or not, depending on the circumstances
Once the emotional storm passes, the last step to emotional balance is deciding whether not to take action. If the situation you are in demands a response, you are now in a better condition to make it happen. From a place of calm, and connection with doubts and desires, it will be much easier to act. Now, if an immediate response isn’t necessary, the best thing is to wait until the emotion loses its intensity. Don’t act until you have understood its message.
As you can see, a difficult emotion can transform. With attention and time, it can turn into serenity and calm. The Dutch philosopher Spinoza expressed it perfectly: “An emotion which is a passion, ceases to be a passion, as soon as we form a clear and distinct idea of it.”
Being present for your emotions is the key that opens the door to emotional balance. It is a practice that requires time and skill. However, if you manage to master it, it will help you deal with the difficulties and problems of your day-to-day. Not only will it improve your relationship with yourself, but with others as well.
Simón, Vicente. (2014), Aprender a practicar mindfulness. Sello editorial, Barcelona.