I recently saw a heartfelt post from a fellow educator which began like this:
‘’I’ve had a tough 2 weeks and I’ve tried to stay positive. Staying positive is exhausting, though. At the best of times. Now it’s completely draining. I spend all my energy telling myself “I’ll be ok. There are so many people worse off than me. I really shouldn’t feel the way I do. I must snap out of it.”
I wonder how many other people are feeling they should ‘snap out of it’ and are exhausted by the pressure to stay positive?
We are living through scary, stressful times, and anyone who claims to never feel anxious, depressed or fearful is almost certainly kidding themselves. We have emotions for a reason; and these kinds of negative emotions are our bodies’ way of alerting us that something is wrong.
If you try and ignore these emotions, or push them away out of consciousness, they will just shout louder, believing that we haven’t spotted that there’s a problem. This is called denial, it doesn’t work, and it is indeed exhausting because you’re fighting your natural protective instincts.
However, that doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to spend all day and night worrying about things that might never happen, and which we have no control over anyway.
How to deal with negative emotions
The key is to FEEL your feelings NOT THINK them. Excuse the shouty capitals, but this is important.
So, when you notice negative feelings, stop what you’re doing and focus on the feeling. Close your eyes and notice how it feels in your body. Maybe your breathing is quite shallow, maybe you can feel tension in your stomach, or your jaw (or both). Observe what is happening objectively, but with compassion for yourself. Breathe. Let the feeling wash through you. Cry if you want to- it’s designed to help you process these kinds of emotions and will help you to release endorphins that will help you to feel better.
If you find focusing on the emotions like this too overwhelming, then try focusing on something outside yourself, such as a flower, or a beautiful picture. Concentrate on noticing every detail and allow the emotions to be there in the background, without trying to push them away.
Notice the story
While you are doing this, notice how your mind will try to get you to attach a story about why you are feeling this way. This is what the mind does. It interprets. Sometimes it may be right, more often than not it’s totally wrong. ‘Don’t think your feelings’ means not paying attention to this attempt to attach a story, and not getting pulled into a spiral of thoughts and worries about the future. Just tell your mind, gently, that you understand that it’s trying to help, but that you just want to focus on the feelings for now.
After a short while, the feelings will pass through you because, unlike thoughts which can whirr on and on, feelings are always transient.
Then you can do something positive to look after yourself, like having a dance, or a bath, or a hug, or reading or watching something relaxing.