Whether you celebrate it or not, how are you feeling about the approaching festive season? Is there a sense of joyful anticipation? Or perhaps you are experiencing a growing dread or increasing stress levels? Remember that there is nothing wrong with this and many of us experience challenging emotions at this time of the year.
Here are some tips for navigating our emotional landscape skilfully.
We can navigate our emotional experiences in terms of three lenses:
- Interoception vs exteroception (totally externally focussed vs totally internally focussed).
- Valence – good or bad (sublimely happy vs deeply miserable).
- Our level of autonomic arousal – alert to calm (wired vs drowsy or numb).
Andrew Huberman: Huberman Lab podcast
When we experience a challenging emotion can we pause and check in with ourselves? Feeling the feet on the ground and then exploring our experience via these three lenses.
- Interoception versus exteroception
Firstly, we can become aware of how internally or externally focussed we are. If we are angry with someone, then we might be quite externally focussed. So, explore becoming more aware of what is happening within us, any thoughts, emotions or sensations. If we are feeling self-pity, then we might be quite internally focussed. So, we can explore becoming more aware of what is happening around us and stepping into the perspective of those around us.
The general principle might be to explore how our emotional landscape might change with more of an internal or more of an external focus. We are not doing this to get rid of a difficult emotion, but to just explore without agenda.
- Good versus bad
Secondly, becoming aware of our attitude to the emotion, whether we are thinking of the emotion as good or bad. We can drop this question into our mind:
“How am I feeling about experiencing this emotion?”
Often what makes an emotion troubling is our sense that there is something wrong with the emotion or that there is something wrong with us if we are feeling this emotion. Emotions are part of the neuro-biology of being a human, they are part of the human condition. This means that we all experience difficult emotions some of the time.
Instead of labelling the emotion as good or bad, can we become curious about it: what bodily sensations do we notice and what thoughts arise when we experience the emotion? So rather than fearing or avoiding strong emotions when they arise, can we say ‘yes’ to them and become mindful of them? Then we can see what can be learned about ourselves and about the human condition from this curiosity.
- Autonomic Arousal
Thirdly, we can ask what is my level of autonomic arousal? If we are experiencing high levels of autonomic arousal, we might feel wired, with increased heart and breathing rate. High levels of arousal might be experienced with emotions of fear, stress or anger. If we are experiencing low levels of autonomic arousal we may feel a lack of motivation, numbness or boredom. Low levels of arousal might be experienced with emotions of sadness or burnout.
We can use breathing to regulate our autonomic arousal.
To reduce autonomic arousal we can breathe slowly and deeply, for example using the coherent breathing technique of breathing in for five seconds and out for five seconds for at least ten breaths. Alternatively, you could take two deep sniffs, followed by a long sighing out breath and do this two or three times. Another option is alternate nostril breathing, where you breathe slowly out and in through one nostril and then out and in through the opposite nostril. Here is a five minute guided audio of alternate nostril breathing:
To increase autonomic arousal, if you are in good health with no blood pressure, heart health problems or epilepsy, you can use a form of Wim Hof breathing. Take 30 quick deep in breaths, inhaling through the nose and out of the mouth. Then take a deep breath and exhale, holding until you need to breathe in. Then inhale again, as deep as you can and hold for 10 seconds.
Again, the general principle might be to explore how our emotional landscape might change with a change in autonomic arousal. We are not doing this to get rid of a difficult emotion, but to just explore without agenda.
You might like to try this alternate nostril breathing technique.
- Join our community sits
All over the Christmas and New Year period our experienced team of Mindfulness meditation tutors will be guiding meditation practices on Zoom each evening at 7pm and each weekday morning at 10.30am. These are completely free of charge and there is no need to sign up. Just visit our home page and click the ‘Join Daily Practice’ button at the time of the session. We would be delighted to have you join us.
We are also running Christmas Meditation days over the festive period, these online practice days take place on 28th, 29th and 30th December and 2nd January. So, if you need some self-compassion over the festive period, then join one of our online practice days. We’d love to see you there!