Let me start here: This post is not about politics. It doesn’t matter what your leanings are – the impeachment proceedings are going to agitate you. This post is about helping you find a way to pay attention to what is happening from a “being educated and informed about our country’s history” level without it destroying your day. Because knowing how to recover from emotional agitation, while staying connected to reality, is a skill that will serve you well in many ways.
We’ve all become very aware of some of the more sensationalist tendencies of information transfer. And yet sometimes we can’t help ourselves but click on that link and dive in headfirst. There’s a reason for that, by the way, which has to do with dopamine…but that’s for another post.
What I want to walk you through is how to recover from the emotional response you’re bound to have after you dive in to something that provokes you.
Here’s how it typically works:
- You tune in to a recap or highlight
- As you watch/read your mind starts creating an inner narrative about what you’re taking in
- Since you’re a human and not a computer, the narrative includes an emotional component
- Those emotions are what give your narrative fuel, or meaning
- Pretty soon your emotions take over the narrative and you’re imagining all sorts of unpleasantries
- Now you’re having an emotional experience instead of a cerebral experience.
If you can find someone to talk with about it, it exacerbates the situation – even if you’re looking at it through the same lens.
Now…check in: What do you feel?
Frustration, disappointment, helplessness, anger, disgust…I’ve heard them all. And none of them contribute to our health, wellness, happiness, mental focus, productivity, or overall wellbeing.
Here’s the key: That feeling you’re feeling? It comes from within you.
And the good news about that means you are in control of changing that. And you can do it in an instant. Let me explain how.
Psychologists often recommend what’s referred to as a “fly on the wall” approach. That’s where in moments of stress you mentally step outside of the moment and imagine observing yourself in the situation you find yourself in. The idea is that by putting yourself in the observer role, you short circuit the stress response and allow yourself to restore creative thinking.
I agree that this is a helpful approach. But in my experience, when you’re in a taboo topic rant (or rage,) if I suggested you step outside of yourself to examine your next step more thoughtfully, I would not expect you to respond kindly. It’s a verbal equivalent of poking the bear.
Instead, here’s what I recommend.
The next time you find yourself heading down an emotional response path that has the potential to ruin your mood for the next few hours, ask yourself this simple question:“What am I making this mean?”
Here’s an example of how it works:
Say you’re looking through your news feed and come across someone giving an interview that you find somewhere between appalling and mildly distasteful. The inner narrative begins as you try to make sense of what it is that you’re seeing. Your emotions get triggered as your brain makes connections to other things you’ve experienced in your life…
This is where thing could go awry. But that was before you knew the question that will change all of that.
Here’s the new plan:
The minute you sense the emotional uprising, stop and ask yourself “What am I making this mean?”
I think what you’ll find in reflecting for a moment on this question is that your emotional response in these situations is less about the facts of what you’re hearing or seeing, and more about the meaning you’re giving it.
Back to the example, if your answer to “What am I making this mean?” sounds something like “All those people are just in it for themselves!” you will end up experiencing anger, a sense of superiority, distrust… Nothing good for you, or your day.
Now again, this is not about judging whether or not your meaning is true. It’s about freeing yourself from the emotional entanglements created by your inner narrative. It’s about not letting what’s going on around you agitate you to the point where your emotions have been hijacked and you are off-course for the rest of the day.
Remember: Once you detach, you can observe. Once you observe, you can form a decision about a path forward that will best support you, and how you want to experience your life.
That’s the best part about it: it’s always your choice.