How Do You Avoid Negative Feelings?
Suppose you distract yourself when the bad feelings arise. You might look to your phone for some pick-me-ups or high-tech diversions. That’s one way to attempt to handle negative feelings.
Maybe you’re feeling some pent up anxiety at night about the next day so you watch some TV or grab a snack to soothe you- yet another way to pacify.
Escapes and distractions work…in the short-term. When you use them long enough though, these distractions have a long-term impact.
What distractions do…
Your subconscious is smarter than you realize and it says, ‘the last time I felt anxious I watched TV. Now I have made the connection between TV and anxiety’. Watching TV might be a seemingly harmless distraction, the connection made in your subconscious is potentially harmful.
Your subconscious is always detecting connections, associations, and patterns to make life easier. You can have some control over these associations if you learn how to work WITH, and understand, your subconscious (I’ll get to that later).
What’s wrong with watching TV when you’re feeling upset?
Your conscious mind thinks TV calmed your worries and took the edge off, but your subconscious (giant human recording system) takes EVERYTHING into account (every little thing you do every day- your conscious mind can’t keep up with that). The connection your subconscious makes is ‘it didn’t work!’ If TV worked, the anxiety wouldn’t have came back the very next night. In addition, the very act of distracting myself send the message something is wrong.
Working with your subconscious to relieve negative feelings:
With or without a religious affiliation or belief in Buddhism as a religion, there are wonderful lessons about the human experience and our thoughts found in Buddhist principles.
Buddhist truth: “Life is suffering”. What’s great about the subconscious is it has no opinion on this notion. It is very literal and we can use that to our advantage. Remember, it only makes connections; not opinions.
Our conscious mind forms an opinion based on our learned realities and judgments. It is also our conscious, personal selves, who react to this statement about suffering, negatively.
The human experience is one that we will have ups and downs and eventually suffer mentally, emotionally, and physically. This is a truth and not a pessimist’s guide to gloom.
Too often we make ourselves unnecessarily suffer with our thoughts by ruminating over them, or as I like to say, ‘thoughts for no reason’. They are thoughts that we do nothing about so they come back (because they didn’t go anywhere), but those thoughts make us suffer more than the subject of our thoughts.
While most would assume happiness is the goal, contentment is the priority in Buddhism. Contentment is not without happiness OR negative feelings; it’s simply the lack of opinion and ruminating (and suffering).
If we try to chase away negative feelings with any number of tactics that ALL begin with, ‘I shouldn’t feel this way’ or ‘this is bad’, then we alert our subconscious to make unnecessary associations.
Next time, suppose you have negative feelings arise and you say, ‘OK, this is normal’; shrug your shoulders. No alert is sent to your subconscious; it has no connections to make.
Conversely, what if you didn’t avoid negative feelings when they arise? That’s perfectly normal too. What if there was no shame in feeling lousy for a bit? What if you cried? Felt scared? Nervous? Sad? What if you didn’t chase the feelings away immediately and simply observed them? Stop feeling guilty for feeling.
Attempting to suppress thoughts can backfire and even diminish our sense of contentment. “Acknowledging the complexity of life may be an especially fruitful path to psychological well-being,”
The use of distractions and escapes can drive a person mad, because you use the distraction or escape, but the feeling comes back again.
You get worried or dismayed that the negative feelings came back. And keep coming back. It’s the same thoughts, anxiety, blame, complaints, or same lifeless depressive state of mind that the subconscious realizes is not helped by running away.
You can smile all day long.
You can watch TV.
You could go shopping….or smoking.
You can take a vacation, but those unpleasant feelings creep up quickly like they’re haunting you no matter how hard you try to vanquish them.
What I learned about having anxiety:
A personal story: I would get anxiety at night mostly. I couldn’t settle down because I was wound up from the busy day, then my heart would race about the day ahead. I’d have anxiety about my heart racing from anxiety!
I tried TV, books, late night snacks, game apps, even guided meditations, and every other distraction you can think of. Nothing really worked! Some worked better than others, but I never thought of my anxiety as being managed by ME. This made me feel more ‘out of control’.
One evening I picked up my phone to play a game that I always played when I was feeling anxious. I realized my subconscious had made the connection (the game was associated with anxiety) because I felt worse when I started playing that game. Simply playing it was a sign (and alert to my subconscious) I had anxiety in that moment.
A guided meditation would calm me, but it was also a crutch and a connection to anxiety if I only used the meditations when I was anxious.
I stopped ALL distractions, even breathing exercises. The anxiety passed much quicker than going through my toolbox of diversions. I felt the anxiety, observed it (this may seem counterintuitive), and it got smaller. It passed without me chasing it away. In a way, I trained my brain (subconscious is easily “trained”.)
Instead of backing away from negative emotions, accept them. Acknowledge how you are feeling without rushing to change your emotional state.