Mask Off by Jessica Kuhnen, MSW, LCSW
My last article left off by asking what does anger/anxiety/sadness/frustration/happiness feel like. I also asked you guys to think about what part of your body you feel that emotion in. When I ask this question to my clients they have a very easy time identifying emotions that I describe as “heavy” ones. People can easily identify the emotions, anger or anxiety. Often times they feel it in their chest and it is a very intense emotion. It usually doesn’t take long to identify what triggers these emotions either; insecurity in a relationship, feeling taken advantage of, preparing for a big meeting etc.
People who struggle with chronic depression or anxiety can view these emotions as more consistent and static than they usually are. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles all emotions are fluid, they peak and they decrease, they disappear and reappear. Very rarely do you experience any emotion consistently for longer than a couple hours. We pay closer attention to what can be perceived as negative emotions because they are so heavy and that weight is easy to catch and identify.
Strangely enough when I ask people about feelings that are somewhat “lighter” such as joy or happiness they have a difficult time indentifying what it feels like and what triggers it. The goal of mindfulness is to be present in the moment and gently accept whatever emotion you are experiencing at the time. How can we accept happiness if we don’t know what it feels like? Taking time out to understand and be mindful with emotions such as happiness and joy is a very effective tool to combat anger, depression and anxiety. When you start doing this, you will realize that even on your worst day, more than likely you did have moments of happiness or joy. The emotion is so light you didn’t necessarily recognize or catch it.
The goal is to catch light emotions and be mindful of them as often as possible. The first step is taking time out to explore these emotions and get just as familiar with them as anger, sadness or anxiety. Since repetition is the Father of learning I’ll leave you with some similar questions to last week;
- Where do you feel joy and happiness in your body? All emotions have a physical sensation. I often feel happiness in my face and I notice less tension in my other body parts.
- What triggered joy or happiness? We often view this through the lense of accomplishments such as a promotion but joy and happiness can be triggered by very small mundane things such as after you use the restroom, during a hug or an embrace or even a funny television commercial can trigger these emotions.