“When awareness is brought to an emotion, power is brought to your life.” – Tara Meyer Robson
Most of us struggle with difficult emotions and moods. Unlike physical fitness, emotional fitness isn’t something we pick up naturally. Many of us lack emotional maturity even though most of our challenges are emotional ones. This is because we were never taught much about our emotions, either how they work or how to work with them. And whenever we try to eliminate or escape from difficult emotions, it so happens that we only train our minds to be more reactive to them as we believe that emotions occur in reaction to the events of our lives and assume that they arise in response to what others do or say to us. So we instinctively seek ways to avoid pain feeling certain emotions.
Many people can be physically fit but emotionally heavy and weighed down because of the weight of the situations and relationships they may not know how to navigate or change. Many resort to quick fixes like smoking, emotional eating or other unhelpful habits to help manage themselves through difficult emotions. Such short-term solutions continue to add more physical and emotional weight. And our unaddressed emotions add to stress, anxiety or emotional heaviness in our lives.
Why is it important not to avoid or deny our emotional action signals
When we allow our problems emotionally outweigh our search for a solution, we aren’t open to many possible solutions and resort to avoidance or denial. For instance, Many of us try to avoid painful emotions that we fear like fear of rejection leads to avoiding any situation that could lead to rejection. Such actions result in shying away from relationships or not being open to challenging opportunities. While avoiding negative situations may protect you in the short-term, but keeps you from achieving goals that you desire most.
Disassociating dealing with difficult emotions or overwhelming pressures of life by using denial strategy or Ignoring the message our emotions are trying to deliver will only intensify making us feel fragmented, helpless, and unable to cope with adversity or difficult situations. You can’t run from your emotions or tune them out, or delude yourself about what they mean. Even those emotions that seem painful in short term act like an internal compass that points you toward the actions you must take to arrive at your goals. You must know how to use this compass in order to not to allow them to run your life. And the only way you can do so is by improving your emotional fitness.
Being emotionally fit improves your ability to read the true message behind your emotions so that you take action to change the way you think, change the way you’re perceiving things, or change your procedures for communicating or behaving to a more productive and constructive manner. For instance, Frustration means you are on the verge of a breakthrough. Confusion can mean you are about to learn something. Expecting the breakthrough and expecting to learn can turn them into positive emotions.
So, What is Emotional fitness?
Emotional fitness is the ability to reason and solve problems based on the emotions you are experiencing. An emotionally fit person is aware of his emotions and uses reason to understand and adapt to any circumstance. So you are the one controlling your emotions and not the other way round. It is a state of mind that enables you to become more aware of your thoughts and emotions to build a better relationship with them to create a healthier, more balanced emotional life. Emotional fitness differs from emotional intelligence in that emotional intelligence implies that a healthy emotional life is primarily a matter of knowledge and understanding. Whereas emotional fitness implies that to achieve meaningful and lasting change in our emotional lives, it takes a commitment to exercise and new habits in addition to more knowledge and information.
Benefits of being emotionally fit
Your emotional fitness can significantly impact all aspects of your life both personal and professional. Emotional fitness
- Decreases stress and overwhelm. The more aware we are of the connection between certain trigger and stress response, the more will be our ability to deal with them before they become stress.
- Helps in building better communication and relationships. Because we have a hard time dealing with emotions like defensiveness, pride, hurt and guilt, we tend to argue, fight or miscommunicate.
- Frees you from anxiety and worry. The habits of worry and avoidance are the main drivers of chronic anxiety because we instantly tend to fight or run away from difficult emotions and not trained in emotional tolerance.
- Helps you stick with your goals. Most of us fail to stick with our goals because we are not good at managing our emotions like rejection, anxiety, failure or regret. With emotional fitness, you can identify and then navigate through them intelligently.
- Improves your self-awareness and decision-making. When we start building better relationship with our emotions, you become self-aware rather than react to them instinctively.
Research finds that those who can identify and regulate their emotions keep striving when the going gets tough. Emotional fitness helps you develop inner resources that help you to recover, grow from the adversity and endure through difficult situations. Your most important relationships would be stronger and more satisfying if you could get a better handle on your own emotional struggles. The ability to flow down and be with your difficult emotions improves your productivity and understanding in your professional relationships.
So, How to be emotionally fit ?
You can train your mind to be emotionally fit, just as you can train and condition your physical self. Whenever you feel a painful emotion, there are steps you can take very quickly to break your limiting patterns, find the benefit of that emotion, and set yourself up so that in the future you can get more emotionally fit. Here are some strategies to improve your emotional fitness.
Practice emotional validation
In order to break thr vicious cycle and re-build a healthier more productive relationship with your emotions, identify, label and acknowledge them.
- Label your emotions clearly. Most of us are bad at labelling what emotion we’re experiencing at a given time. Instead of avoiding them, take time to deliberately reflect on your emotions. It means paying attention to them and labelling them. Whenever you feel “bad” or “upset”, ask yourself, what specific emotion am I feeling right now? Frustrated? Nervous, Ashamed? Sad? For instance, if you think, “I’m feeling angry,” begin to ask yourself, “ Am I really feeling angry? Or is it something else? May be what I’m really feeling is hurt. Taking time to identify what you’re really feeling, and beginning to question your emotions helps to lower the emotional intensity you’re experiencing. This way you can deal with the situation more quickly and easily.
- Notice the complexity of your emotions. Most of us make the mistake of assuming that we can only experience one emotion at a time. In fact, the vast majority of the time our emotional state involves many different emotions of various intensities. Whenever you find yourself upset, ask yourself: What are the different pieces of this emotion and what are their respective weights?
- Practice accepting your emotions. Never assume that your emotions are wrong. Acknowledge your emotion as a part of the message your brain is sending as a signal of support or a call to action to make a positive change in your perception of some aspect of your life or in your actions. Making an emotion wrong will make it to persist. Cultivate the habit of emotional acceptance.
Develop Emotional Clarity
Gaining emotional clarity helps you shift from a place of disconnection and/or distress back to the root of your emotions, rather than bottling things up or handling them in a less-than-beneficial way (like avoiding them completely). When an event or situation causes you to feel upset, determine which emotions are you experiencing. Here are the three base emotions to gain emotional clarity.
- Defensive emotions: These involve how you behave when you’re avoiding core or inhibitory emotions. This behaviour could be through sarcasm, joking, working too much, etc.,defensive emotion is anything that enables you to avoid being aware or experiencing a certain feeling you’re uncomfortable with.
- Core emotions: These are the bigger-picture feelings that describe how you’re experiencing something. We’re more familiar with these, as they include emotions like fear, excitement, disgust, joy, grief, and anger. They inform us about our environment and how we’re experiencing it. They signal to your mind and body how to react accordingly like by feeling fear and then removing yourself from the situation.
- Inhibitory emotions: Inhibitory emotions are one of three things: anxiety, guilt, or shame. They’re negative, and enable us to avoid feeling the core emotion. This comes into play when we’re doing something we know others don’t approve of or wouldn’t find appropriate.
By developing emotional awareness and clarity, you’ll be able to find the exit to that frustrating situation of not knowing how you actually feel and can access your
feel-good emotions, like being calm, curious, connected, compassionate, confident, courageous, and clear.
Be committed to emotional-tolerance
Emotional fitness is all about resisting the urge to avoid difficult emotions. Instead of running away from them, stay with the discomfort until you identify the message or action signals the emotion is sending you. Here are some ways to practice emotional-tolerance.
- Get curious about the message the emotion is sending you. As you begin to feel the emotion, get curious about what it really has to offer you in order to learn important distinctions about them. Here are some questions to ask yourself to become curious about your emotions. What do you need to do right now to make things better? Are you misinterpreting the situation to mean something else? Is my emotion giving me a message that I need to take action? What do I really want to feel? What would I have to believe in order to feel the way I’ve been feeling? What am I willing to do to create a solution? What can I learn from this? Getting curious helps you master your emotion, solve the challenge and prevent the same problem from occurring in the future.
- Tap into your past experiences. The quickest way to become emotionally fit is to remember the time when you felt a similar emotion and realise that you’ve successfully handled this emotion before. Since you have handled this in past and gotten through it, you gain confidence to tolerate a difficult emotion. By tapping into your past experience of the same emotion and how you dealt with it in a positive way, you can be better prepared to handle it in the present. What did you do back then? Did you change what you were focusing on, your perceptions? Or did you take some kind of new action? Decide to do the same right now.
Cultivate better mental habits.
Long-term emotional fitness requires that we understand and address the source of our emotions. Just like physical health depends on a foundation of good diet and exercise habits, building better emotional health too depends on a foundation of positive mental habits and practices.
- Mindfulness: The first such habit to build emotional fitness is attention control through mental awareness. It is important to be aware of our thinking as most of our moods, emotions, desired and motivations are filtered through our thoughts. So, if we want to get serious about changing how we think about things, worry and ruminate less, make better decisions, stay focused on the task at hand, we need to build up our attentional muscle and learn to control what we choose to focus on or disengage from. Mindfulness strengthens our ability to shift our attention from whatever event or stimuli happens to attract it and keep it focused on the things that will help us to make good decisions, do our best work, and move toward our values and goals.
- Cognitive restructuring: While it is essential that we be aware of our thoughts and improve our ability to change the way we think, it is also very useful to learn how to modify the content of our thoughts. Learning to identify and modify the way we actually think about things—has a powerful impact both on how we feel on a regular basis as well as on our behavior and habits.
- Practice positive self-talk: Sometimes, our self-talk can affect how we feel. In addition to paying attention to what you say to yourself, try and be attentive to the way you talk to yourself. Are you harsh, judgmental, and sarcastic with yourself? What would it look like if you were more gentle, empathetic, and straightforward in the way you talked to yourself? There’s nothing wrong with self-criticism, pointing out your own mistakes, and holding yourself to a high standard. But you’ll be much more likely to do this productively if it’s intentional and deliberate rather than a gut reaction. Instead of instantly passing judgment on yourself in the moment, schedule a time to reflect on a perceived mistakes or flaws intentionally.
How effectively can you handle your difficult emotions? Are you able to handle any adversity or negative emotions that might surface and still be productive in all areas of your life? How does emotion play a role in your life? What are your attitudes towards your emotions? What type of habits have you built up around your emotions? How could a better understanding of your emotions improve certain aspects of your life?
Do you ever struggle to bounce back faster from stressful and frustrating experiences?How is your self-talk, is it emotionally uplifting or discouraging?
Having emotional fitness means taking full responsibility for what happens in your life- the good and the bad. Take an honest look at your emotional health and consider what set of actions you can take to change those behaviours. This can help you manage and process your own emotions and also help you handle the different levels of emotional maturity that the people around you exhibit. If you put these tips into practice, you will improve your emotional endurance and continue striving towards your goals inspite of hardships or roadblocks.