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5 Simple Tips for Managing Your Emotions Through Meditation

by Sara Schairer: Nearly each and every day offers a unique opportunity…

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The opportunity to scream, shout, and throw a tantrum about something. Did someone cut you off on the freeway? You could shout. Did someone in front of you at the grocery store pay in pennies and spend seemingly hours counting them out? You feel like screaming. Did your boss just inform you that the project you’ve been working on for months is no longer needed? That’s tantrum-worthy, for sure. It takes work to live in this world as a human being and not blow up when faced with anger-provoking moments.

And what about the other types of emotional moments? Think about all of the other extreme emotions you could experience throughout your day. You may feel heart-wrenching sadness when you’re reminded of a lost loved one. You might feel utter frustration when you can’t open a jar of marinara sauce. Your heart may want to burst with delight when you’re snuggling with your puppy.

Managing Your Emotions

When faced with a difficult moment, managing strong or negative emotions is not about suppressing them. You need to feel what you feel. However, it is possible to honor your emotions without acting out unskillfully, like flying off the handle when you get angry or falling into a spiral of sadness or anxiety when you get bad news.

Thankfully, a meditation practice can help you gain emotional control—day in and day out. By practicing in your mind, you can handle moments with skill when you face them in real life.

If your idea of meditation is to sit on a cushion and clear your mind, your practice might not be giving your brain the workout it needs to skillfully control your emotions.

Here are some tips for using meditation as a practice ground for emotion regulation.

1. Find an Anchor

Thanks to the fact that you’re born with a human brain, you can’t really control your mind. Some refer to it as the “monkey mind,” in fact, because it often jumps from place to place with no rhyme or reason, similar to how a monkey jumps from branch to branch.

When the mind is jumping around, it’s not easy to manage strong emotions. You may get caught up in a story that leads you down an anger-provoking path, and that path may lead to another story that riles you up even more

Think of your mind like a snow globe; when you let it settle down, you can see more clearly. You can calm amplified emotions when you still the mind. You can be in the moment instead of spinning in your head.

You can practice calming the mind by focusing on something during your meditation. Each time your mind wanders away from your focal point, gently nudge it back. When you bring your focus back to one anchor, again and again, you’re doing the brain version of bicep curls. You’re strengthening neuro-pathways that make it easier to come back to the present and not get caught up in your monkey mind.

Because you have access to your breath 24/7, try using it as your anchor. When you meditate, you can repeat the words, “inhale” and “exhale” in your mind. You’ll inevitably notice your mind wandering, and when you do you can bring it back to deep breaths.

2. Remember Self-Compassion

I cannot say enough about the power of self-compassion. Self-compassion, as defined by researcher Kristin Neff, Ph.D., contains the following:

  • Mindfulness
  • Common humanity
  • Self-kindness

When you bring to mind these three main components of self-compassion, you can soothe yourself in the midst of suffering. By tending to your struggles, you can more easily swim in the lake of your emotions without drowning.

For example, let’s say you have a big presentation to give at work in a few days and someone on your team wasn’t thorough with the information you needed in order to be fully prepared. You are not happy with this person to say the least. Before unleashing on your colleague and making matters worse, you could try a little self-compassion to calm yourself down.

  • First bring awareness, or mindfulness, to your thoughts (“This person is a moron!”), sensations (rapid heart rate, feeling heat in your face), and emotions (anger).
  • Next, bring in some common humanity by considering that many others have been in your situation. You are not the only one feeling stressed.
  • Finally, you can perhaps bring a hand to your heart as an act of kindness for yourself. That skin-to-skin contact may promote the feel-good hormone oxytocin. You can also say something encouraging to yourself, like “You’re going to be okay,” or “You’ve got this.”

By calming down with a little self-compassion, you can buy yourself the time you need in order to control emotions in a tricky situation. To help hammer this concept home, you can find self-compassion meditations on Dr. Neff’s website, www.self-compassion.org.

3. Zoom Out

Margaret Cullen, a founding faculty member of the Compassion Institute, teaches an online course on equanimity, which is a Buddhist principle of staying even-keeled during highs and lows. Cullen draws on various meditation techniques and mind-shifts to help her students cultivate this skillful way to manage life.

During her class, Cullen shares this equanimity lesson from her teacher, Joseph Goldstein, cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society. Goldstein said to consider one of the world’s most powerful figures, Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan, the 12th century Mongol ruler and global conqueror, created one of the largest empires in history and left a path of destruction across much of Asia. In fact, a significant number of people in the world’s population can trace DNA to Khan.

For a moment, consider this: when is the last time you thought of Genghis Khan? His life, which still impacts the world, probably doesn’t cross your mind at all, unless you’re a history buff. Khan shows up in a few pages within a world history book, and that’s about it.

Why does thinking about Genghis Khan help you with emotional control? By taking a moment to gain perspective on your own existence and recognize how little it matters in the grand scheme of things, you can calm down.

During meditation, imagine seeing Earth from outer space. Visualize Earth as a small blue marble floating in vast darkness, and see if that helps you stay grounded and calm. Shifting your perspective in this way helps with managing emotions.

4. Visualize It

Another type of visualization technique might help you. Just like an athlete who visualizes his or her performance on the court in order to prepare for his or her competition, you can use visualization techniques to prepare for challenging situations.

My go-to meditation for cultivating positive feelings for someone is an abridged version of the loving-kindness, or metta, practice. You imagine having kind and friendly thoughts and feelings for three different people:

  • A loved one
  • A neutral person (someone you see often but don’t know well)
  • A person who challenges you

By practicing having these feelings in your mind, you’ll be preparing yourself to offer them the same friendliness and kindness when you see them in the flesh.

Here’s a loving-kindness meditation you can follow. Note that the practice below does not include extending warmth beyond these three people, but feel free to expand your circle of compassion to encompass your town, state, continent, and the world.

Loved One

  1. Settle the mind through a few minutes of focused-attention meditation. You can use the breath as your anchor (see above).
  2. Imagine a loved one is standing in front of you, and notice how it feels to be in his or her presence.
  3. Realize that this person has ups and downs, has felt anger and frustration, and wants to lead a fulfilling life.
  4. Say, in your own mind, to this person:

May you be happy,
May you be peaceful,
May you know that your life is a gift.

Neutral Person

  1. Drop the image of your loved one, and bring to mind a neutral person. You can choose someone you see at the office but don’t really know, or perhaps a neighbor you don’t really know. It doesn’t matter who you choose, as long as you don’t know them well.
  2. Once again, notice how you feel when you imagine this person is in front of you.
  3. Realize that this person, too, experiences the trials and tribulations of life. This person experiences difficulties and sorrows and wishes to lead a fulfilling life.
  4. Say, in your own mind, to this person:

May you be happy,
May you be peaceful,
May you know that your life is a gift.

Challenging Person

  1. Let go of the image of the neutral person, and bring to mind someone who challenges you. You can choose someone who gets under your skin, frustrates you, or brings you negative feelings. I wouldn’t recommend using the most difficult person in your life if this is a new practice for you.
  2. Notice how you feel, and perhaps tune into the fact that you may rather avoid thinking about this person.
  3. For a moment, recognize that this person who challenges you is leading a flawed human experience, just like you are. This person has felt sadness and frustration and also has hopes and dreams.
  4. Now, say, in your own mind, to this challenging person:

May you be happy,
May you be peaceful,
May you know that your life is a gift.

All 3 People

  1. Now imagine all three of them in front of you: your loved one, neutral person, and the person who challenges you. Take a moment to acknowledge that, although they may seem very different, they are exactly the same in one way—they want to lead happy lives.
  2. Say in your mind to all three:

May you be happy,
May you be peaceful,
May you know that your life is a gift.

5. Remember Impermanence

When you’re in the thick of struggles, it can be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Your suffering might seem never-ending, and you aren’t sure how you’ll be able to manage.

It’s helpful to remember the old adage, “This, too, shall pass.” Whether highs or lows, your emotions are not permanent. You may also want to look back on other times that you’ve suffered to see if anything good came out of those struggles. Often, what seems like the pit of despair ends up being a blessing in disguise.

It may be helpful to repeat certain phrases during your meditations in order to remember impermanence. You can repeat, “This, too, shall pass,” or a phrase from Cullen’s meditation on equanimity, “Things are as they are.”

By giving these ideas and practices a spin on your meditation cushion, your emotional control and emotional well-being will improve, and your life will feel less turbulent.

Source: Chopra

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