How To Handle Your Unpleasant Emotions Mindfully


Do you ever feel stuck in an unpleasant emotion and feel like there’s no way out? Maybe it’s anger, sadness, or maybe it just feels like a bad mood. Trust me, I’ve been there; for a while I felt like no matter what I did, I couldn’t get away from my uncomfortable emotions. Through my work as a certified holistic life coach in the Tampa Bay area, and through my own personal growth, I learned how to deal with my unpleasant emotions in a way that is not only healthy but also progressive, and I teach this in my work as a life coach at Mindful Ways to Wellness as well. The approach is through mindfulness.

Learning how to handle your emotions mindfully is a sure way to allow them to be soothed. In this blog, you will learn why it’s important to deal with your difficult emotions mindfully, and a simple three-step process for how to handle your unpleasant emotions mindfully. You will have the opportunity to gain self-awareness about your own patterns around handling emotions.

The benefits of mindfulness on our mental health are becoming more and more well-known as research comes out with significant studies on how mindfulness can play a role in balancing brain functioning and much more (Ireland, 2014). Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the now rather than future or past stressors that often lead to unpleasant emotions. Emotions by definition are “an instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstance” (Oxford Dictionary, 2019). However, what you consider to be a difficult emotion may differ from another.

While I was going through my journey, I often found myself trying to avoid my unpleasant emotions because, well, they don’t feel good! However, I learned that avoiding emotions can be harmful to one’s well-being. Avoiding your emotions looks different for everyone, but some common responses are: excessive drug or alcohol use, over-eating, excessive social media or technology, excessive need to be busy, and/or engaging in drama (Salzberg, 2018).

So, it’s important to ask yourself this question: Do I tend to run away from my problems or deal with them head on?

This question can help you become aware of whether you have the tendency to avoid unpleasant emotions when they come up. When one doesn’t deal with their emotions consistently, those emotions begin to get repressed. Repression can lead to more severe problems such as anxiety, depression, chronic illnesses, burnout, and more (Jacobson, 2019). This can be due to a build-up of emotions that eventually forms a bigger problem.

Also consider whether you feel a build-up of a specific emotion(s). If so which one(s)? This question can help you understand what emotion(s) you could handle more mindfully in the future.

The following process will encourage you to work with your unpleasant emotions in a mindful way in hopes that they won’t build up in repression, but rather will be released with ease.

Step One: Notice the Unpleasant Emotion

In this step, allow yourself to notice when something comes up that feels uncomfortable. It may take a few times for you to recognize that a specific emotion comes up frequently. This step is about being honest with yourself as well as getting to know yourself and your emotions. Try not to judge yourself when unpleasant emotions come up! This step allows you to slow down and notice what is going on with your body and mind in the now.

Step Two: Sit With The Emotion

In this step, it is important to allow yourself to feel the emotion fully. This is where you want to let yourself cry, yell, or do whatever else is trying to come through. You will likely get the urge at this point to turn to your avoidant habit, like go on social media, gossip, or flee the scene. It is very important that you resist that urge and stay present with the emotion. This allows the emotion to be fully expressed, which means it will not be repressed or build into a bigger problem.

This step is often uncomfortable, but there are many things you can do to stay fully present. I suggest a guided meditation, journaling, walking outside, or focusing on your breath in silence. Because these are all mindful activities, they will help the emotion to be expressed and not repressed. How long you stay present depends entirely on you. It could be helpful to stay on step two for a few moments, or you may like to return to it a few times if you’re working with a heavier emotion that may take more time to process.

Step Three: Let It Dissolve

How long you stay present in step two is entirely up to you. Often what will happen is that the emotion will naturally drift away - this is the beauty of mindfulness. This is because, like everything in this world, emotions are impermanent. Remember to not force the emotion to leave; if it’s not ready yet, return to step two.

This doesn’t mean you have to hold onto the difficult emotion, but rather continue to walk beside it until it dissolves. This will allow the uncomfortable sensation to lessen and help you become more aware as an outsider observing your experience.

Throughout my work with difficult emotions, I have learned that this process offers great healing and transformation. I have watched my own difficult emotions quickly resolve with my commitment to these steps and the journey of self-love.

Using this three-step mindfulness practice with your emotions can take time to get in the groove of, and it can be very helpful when processing your emotions to have someone to support you through it. At Mindful Ways to Wellness in St. Petersburg, Florida, we offer mental health counseling via secure telehealth video chat where you will work one-on-one with a mental health professional who has the skills to lead you through difficult emotions. Visit our website to learn more and book your free 30-minute consultation.

Resources Cited:

Emotion. (2019). In Oxford Online Dictionary.

Ireland, Tom. “What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain?” Scientific American Blog Network, Scientific American, 12 June 2014, blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/what-does-mindfulness-meditation-do-to-your-brain/.

Jacobson, Sheri. “What Are Repressed Emotions.” Harley Therapy™ Blog, 11 Oct. 2019, www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/what-are-repressed-emotions.htm.

Salzberg, Sharon. “Mindfulness of Emotions.” Mindfulness Exercises, 2018, mindfulnessexercises.com/mindfulness-of-emotions/.

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