How to separate yourself from uncomfortable emotions

A simple activity for children and adults

By Stella Hurst, Sleep & Anxiety Practitioner at Imara

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, and at Imara we have all been identifying and sharing what we have found helpful to cope and maintain our mental health while living in lockdown.

What has massively helped my mental health during lockdown is to:

  • Notice and name any of my uncomfortable emotions and physical sensations that come with the emotion.
  • Welcome them all in and
  • Make space for them inside of me.

Before you learn how to do this too, it’s helpful to understand why this is so beneficial

The first thing to understand is that emotions and physical sensations are just energy. This means that they cannot hurt you, no matter how uncomfortable they may feel.

  • Emotions: e.g. anxiety, fear, sadness, anger.
  • Physical sensations: e.g. tense muscles, knot in stomach, aching in heart.

No one can control which emotions and/or sensations turn up, but what we are in control of is how we respond to them. You are in control because you have a choice of how to respond to them.

If you respond to any emotions or sensations by trying to push them away or escape from them, it can cause them to become stronger and last for longer, because what you resist persist.

However, if you choose to accept and welcome the uncomfortable emotions and sensations, these ‘visitors’ will pass through you so much quicker, getting you back to feeling more of the emotions such as happiness, contentment etc.

So how do you accept the presence of an emotion/sensation and welcome it? Well, the first step is to realise that these emotions/sensations are not you. They are separate from you. They are just visitors who show up, stay for a while and then leave.

You can use the following method to turn the emotion and/or sensation into a character. This will help you to untangle yourself from them, to see that they are separate from you. Remember these characters are not you and they cannot hurt you. They are just visitors who will arrive, stay for a while and then leave.

Ask yourself these 10 questions to turn those uncomfortable emotions and/or physical sensations into characters that are separate from you:

Step One

  • Which emotion has shown up in you? (e.g. I feel anxious)
  • What physical sensation(s) have shown up with this emotion? (e.g. tightness in chest and throat)
  • In which part of your body do the physical sensations feel weakest and strongest? (e.g. weakest in the tips of my toes, strongest in my chest)
  • Is the sensation deep inside of you or on the surface? (e.g. deep inside the centre of my chest)
  • What is this sensation doing? (e.g. pulsing, spinning slowly/quickly, whizzing around)
  • What shape/form is the sensation? (e.g. it is a fuzzy ball that looks like it’s make of static)
  • What colour is it? (e.g. bright yellow and shining)
  • Does it feel heavy or light?
  • Does it have a texture?
  • Does it feel particularly hot or cold?

Step Two

  • Now that you can see this character in your mind, have fun with it. Make it act in funny ways and make funny sounds. E.g. the character that is representing the sensation for the emotion anxiety is fizzing and whizzing around, making a silly high pitched sound. By getting them to act in funny, silly ways, they will begin to seem less scary and, with practice, you may actually start to find them funny.
  • Give it a funny name. E.g. Sparkles, whizzer, Plonkety
  • Now draw that character out onto paper. This will help you even further to realise that it is separate from you.
  • Now, whenever you feel the character your character come to visit you, instead of trying to push it away, say to it, out loud or in your head, “Hello [name of character e.g Sparkles]”, “I’m so happy to see you”, “Come on in”, “You are so welcome to be here”. Being friendly towards it tells our minds that we are safe and so we feel more at ease when it’s there and before we know it the character will have passed through us.
  • When the character arrives, imagine that you are making lots of space inside of you for it to freely move around in. This is telling your mind that you are not resisting it, but are happy for it to be there. You feel safe and you mind will calm and before you know it you will have other feeling (characters such as excitement and motivation) coming along to take its place without you even realising.

So there you have it. Enjoy creating your characters!