Filed under: Emotions
Many people believe that positive emotions such as love, joy, gratitude, and happiness are luxuries without purpose. Sure, they make you feel good, but what else do they do for you? You can probably already identify ways in which negative emotions serve a purpose in your life. Anxiety drives you to prepare. Embarrassment can lead you to self-reflect. Guilt can enable you to apologize and make amends. But what purpose do positive emotions serve?
Positive emotions can help you be more creative. If you’ve ever been stuck trying to solve a problem for a long time, positive emotions can help you get outside the box and think more creatively about how to come up with a solution. Think about the last time you felt fear. What happened? Your heart rate sped up, maybe you even sweated, and you felt flustered. Positive emotions can also help bring your body back down to baseline more quickly after experiencing the physical impact of negative emotions. Finally, positive emotions put money in your stress-coping bank. If you find ways to experience a little goodness each day, you will be able to remain more robust in the face of challenges when they do arise.
Positive emotions don't just make you feel good: They’re good for relationships, can lead to success, and build your resilience over time. Think about what brings you feelings of love, joy, and contentment. Is it spending a few uninterrupted minutes with your kid playing on the floor? Sharing a funny video with a teammate over morning coffee? Taking a walk after dinner with your spouse? You have a busy life and lots to juggle. How often do you let opportunities to feel happy fall to the bottom of your priority list? Since the bad in your life can often outweigh the good, make sure you seek out opportunities to savor positive emotions.
Forcing yourself to “just think positively,” especially if you’re feeling sad or anxious, typically doesn’t work. New perspectives can be wonderful, but they can’t be forced. Typically, it isn’t specific thoughts that can make you feel better; it’s the flexibility to recognize that there’s more than one way to look at a situation.
Remember: Thinking about something doesn’t always make it true. For instance, you might believe, “My NCO thinks I’m incompetent.” Instead, you might take comfort in thinking, “My NCO pushes hard, but he knows I’m good at what I do”—if you really believe it. Still, it could lead to an internal debate: “He thinks I stink. No, he knows I’m good. He thinks I’m a loser,” and so on. But recognizing there are many ways to interpret your NCO’s behavior can be helpful, as you simply move forward and do what’s needed.
You’re not burying your feelings and you aren’t fighting them: You’re using this mindfulness and acceptance-based approach to become aware of thoughts and feelings, let them fade into the background, and focus on what’s important. It’s tempting to fight negative emotions, but the fight itself often makes things worse. Picture someone saying, “Don’t be anxious/sad/mad/frustrated,” and you’ll likely feel the emotion that much more strongly as you either try to push it away or cling to it. Be present: Tune into your feelings and face what’s happening. Let the experience come and watch it go.
Mindfulness in daily life might seem simple, but it’s not. Practice the skill and enjoy slowly becoming better at it!
The end of a relationship might bring feelings of sadness and stress. But breaking up can be good for you when separating from a relationship leads to self-growth. How can you make this happen? To get there, reflect on the benefits of breaking up and write them down. What can you do now that you weren’t able to do before?
Writing out what led to the break-up, how the breakup happened, and what happened after the break-up can reduce your negative thoughts about the split. Venting to a friend definitely has its place, but to capitalize on the split, focus on what is (or was) going on for you during this time by writing about it. This can help you examine any red flags you might have overlooked or any patterns that you might have developed in how you select partners. Consider how you contributed to the relationship not working and what you might be able to do differently in the future. This self-reflection can lead to powerful conclusions.
You probably know people who seem to choose the same kind of person or relationship every time, and it ends up not working out in the end or not being good for them. Don’t be one of them! By taking some time to write down and reflect on your last relationship, you might be saving yourself from future angst.
“You are what you eat” means that food affects your physical AND emotional health! A tip that also helps your mood is to stay away from “comfort foods.” Choose foods that give you more steady energy, such as an orange or raisins (not ice cream or fries). This might be old advice, but here’s a new twist: Eat that snack mindfully!
By practicing mindfulness before you eat, when you’re feeling a craving, and while you eat, you can overcome binge eating, eating to soothe emotional concerns, and impulses triggered by yummy sights, sounds, or smells. It helps you understand your motivation. Are you eating because you’re hungry and it’s time to eat? Or is it a “quick fix” for your stress or worries?
Once you’re eating, instead of analyzing why you’re eating or focusing on other tasks such as texting, be mindful of the eating experience, embracing the experiences of smell, taste, temperature, and texture. You may find yourself slowing down and enjoying your food more!
Before diving into your next snack or meal, think about what you’re eating and be mindful of why. Here’s a simple example of how you can weave mindful eating into your daily life: You might notice that it’s 3pm, and you’ve had nothing to eat since that healthy lunch, and you need a pick-me-up, so you reach for an orange. Now, mindfully enjoy each part of the experience as you peel the orange, noticing the textures inside and outside, the stickiness, the spray, and the smell. Notice how you salivate with the anticipation of citrus acids, and the moment when the piece of orange hits your tongue, followed by squirts of flavor, and changing texture. Enjoy!
Mindfulness can help you feel better equipped to handle difficult emotions. It’s a process geared to help you tune in to emotional experiences rather than try to escape from them. It’s easy to be overcome by depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, or other mental health problems. And you can make it worse by trying to forget the cause. For example, a service member afflicted with PTSD desperately wants to avoid experiencing certain traumatic events. Ironically, the actual effort to forget can cause him to relive difficult events through dreams, flashbacks, or memories. To illustrate this idea, right now, try NOT to think of weapons. You probably thought about them that much more. Read more here.
To be good at something, you can’t avoid hard work. It often requires 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” to become an expert in a profession, sport, game, or other skill. You can’t just go through the motions of practice sessions. You need to engage in “deliberate practice” in which you’re highly focused on mastering specific skills in complex conditions.
The most impressive performances require talent, but even the most talented people have to deliberately train skills to reach the highest level of capability and performance and then to maintain that level.
To develop and maintain your own talent, try the following:
- Train your body, mind, and emotions with specific skills that are most related to what you want to achieve.
- Have a sense that “I can do this.”
- Cultivate the ability to cope with the emotions of disappointments and setbacks along the way.
- Listen to feedback from others (a commanding officer, coach, or mentor) and put it into practice.
The video below (source) shows one example of where deliberate practice matters. Doctors who deal with a “Code Blue” heart failure situation hope for the best, but they consistently (and deliberately) prepare for the worst.
Stress affects your body, and the condition of your body can cause stress. If you have PTSD, you could be so chronically stressed that it contributes to a heart condition. Or if you had a heart attack, you could feel so traumatized that you become anxious. What’s more, stress could have contributed to your heart attack in the first place. This back-and-forth relationship also occurs between physical pain and depression. You physically hurt, so you feel down…you feel down, and so you hurt more.
This link between mind and body is amazing. Sometimes it can feel like it’s working against us, but you can also use the mind-body connection to your advantage! For instance, you can learn to push through strong emotions with mindfulness, reduce your blood pressure with a self-driven technique called autogenic training, or turn on your body’s relaxation response through deep breathing.
There are lots more ways you can put the mind-body connection to work to reduce your stress. Get more ideas by exploring HPRC’s Mind-Body Skills section.
Anger can be helpful in combat situations, and it can help individuals engage in quick, decisive action. It also can help keep emotions such as guilt and sadness at bay so you can accomplish things you need to do. Anger has its place. In relationships, anger is bound to make its way into interactions sometimes. When regulated, it can help you solve problems or motivate you to talk about important things, including hurt feelings. When unregulated, however, it can damage your relationship and increase your unhappiness with your loved one. Increased levels of anger can even increase your risk for physical health problems, especially coronary heart disease. It isn’t possible to avoid anger completley, but you can learn how to manage it well. Read more in HPRC’s “Performance Strategies: Five Steps to Managing Anger.”
Everyone has feelings—and by the time people become adults, most have a vocabulary for talking about them. Children, however, often don’t yet have this skill and are more likely to act out how they feel. A great way to strengthen your family is to help your child(ren) learn how to talk about feelings in an age-appropriate way. The Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS) program for enhancing family resilience has created a “Feeling Thermometer” that you can use with your child so he or she can show you where his/her feelings fall. This is a great way to understand what your child is feeling and to start talking about emotions such as anger when a child gets too “hot,” so he or she can learn how to control such feelings and make that anger temperature go down.
For more ideas to strengthen your family, check out HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain.
Everyone experiences anger—it’s normal. It’s also normal that the people you love will make you angry at some point. The trick is figuring out how to manage your anger—an essential skill for yourself and your relationships. Not dealing with anger just makes the situation worse. Afterdeployment.org has handouts on different aspects of Anger and Anger Management to get you started, including Anger Cues and Measuring Anger, Myths About Anger, how to manage anger with Time-Outs, and how to create an Anger Control Plan.