Understanding EmotionsWith everything going on right now, all the changes in our daily lives, the movement towards societal change, what are you experiencing? What is your body telling you about how you're reacting to the world? What are your emotions telling you?

Our emotions are powerful, if you know how to listen to them, they will tell you about your environment, your self and your past. Each emotion has a purpose. Let's look at some of the basic ones:

Joy - Tells you that you are safe right now. Nothing to worry about.

Sadness - Tells you that you have lost something. Danger is in the past. Time to grieve.

Anger - Tells you that you are in danger, or being attacked. Danger is here now. Time to defend yourself.

Anxiety - Tells you that danger is coming. Danger is in the future (future could be as early as 1 second from now). Time to get ready.

Each of these emotions has different volumes for example: nervousness, anxiety, fear and terror are all the same emotions, just different intensity, therefore the danger up ahead has different levels of danger to your life.

Annoyance, frustration, pissed off, anger, rage, are all the same emotions, just different levels of danger.

What to do with your emotions

If you learn to recognize your emotions and what they are telling you, you can learn to react accordingly. Most of us have a tendency to ignore our emotions, think that they are not important, that they are annoying and useless. With time, they build up until they become too much and explode and then we lose control of our behaviour. When they are that big it reinforces our belief that they are useless and that they only cause trouble.

Analogy: Imagine that you put a pebble in your purse/backpack/bag. One pebble is not going to make much of a difference in your everyday life. But if you put a pebble in your bag every day, one of these days you're not going to be able to pick up your bag or you're going to pick it up and you may fall from the weight of it.

At this point, anyone extra pebble that creates weight (or something in your life that creates an emotion), is too much, you just want to get rid of the pebbles, throw them out, hate them for being so heavy. Except that at this point it's too much, the pebbles have fallen out and are all over the place having caused some damage to wherever they fell and hit or broke something.

At this point, any help feels useless and overwhelming. You're tired of carrying the burden of the pebbles, the weight feels like it's never going to come off, and you do everything you can to avoid adding any more weight to your bag.

The only way to get better is to get rid of one pebble at a time. The beginning stages seem like either nothing is happening (if the pebbles are all scattered, you pick one up, still looks like a mess) or that you are going to make a mess (if you have a mountain of pebbles, grabbing one may topple the mountain), and it feels discouraging.

But remember, that every time you pick up a pebble, the load becomes lighter until it becomes manageable again.

To start getting rid of your pebbles, you first need to acknowledge that they are there and that they have an effect on you.

How to recognize your emotions and become aware of them

You can do that by noticing the emotions in your body and the sensations they bring. You may have sadness at volume 1, and anxiety at volume 5 for example. Once you've identified the emotions, notice how they feel in your body. See if you can invite them to exist, see if you can listen to them, see if you can identify what the emotion is reacting to. If there is sadness, what have you lost? If there is anger, what needs protection? If there is anxiety, what do you need to prepare for?

Then notice if the volume of the emotion matches what the emotion is reacting to. If it matches, sit with it, accept it, welcome it, ride the wave. You may notice it decrease with time. If you criticize it at all as in: "I shouldn't be feeling this way" or "this is silly", this will not work, as you are adding pebbles to your bag.

If the volume of the emotion doesn't match the event, then you may be reacting to an event in the past that is coupled with the present event. Think of a time, or your earliest memory of when you felt the way you do now. There probably is an emotional injury there that needs some attending to.

You may sit with the emotion and it may become bigger and scarier. That's ok. If it's too much to do on your own, have someone sit with you while you sit with your emotions. This process is a vulnerable process so you can only do it with someone who has earned your trust. A close friend or family member who is comfortable with strong emotions, or a therapist.

If the wave is too big to sit through, take breaks, and go back to it. Similar to getting slowly into a cold pool. You start with one toe, leave, then put a foot in the cold water, leave, then put your legs, leave and so on.

It's a scary process, you don't need to do it alone! But you also should not do it with someone who is "emotionally dangerous", as they may add more pebbles to your bag.

Your emotions are your body's way of communicating about your experiences, learn to listen to it.

About OCP

Ontario Counselling and Psychotherapy is a group of psychotherapists and social workers in Ottawa, Cornwall, Toronto (and soon other cities in Ontario) who offer expertise in a variety of mental health areas and believe in an integrated approach to counselling. We work with you and pride ourselves in creating a strong relationship with our clients by ensuring that we are a good fit to help you attain your therapy goals. We offer individual, couple, family and child psychotherapy to clients all over Ontario.

We invite you to explore our site and contact the therapist of your choice. You will find our contact information under “Our therapists” tab. If you are unsure, call the centre at (613) 699-0060 or email at ocp.therapyinfo@gmail.com, and we will answer any questions you may have, direct you to a therapist, and, if you wish, set you up with one of our therapists.