One of the best analogies I have ever heard to describe our emotions is that they are like waves. Think of how waves work: there is a swell, a rolling, a build-up, a breaking point, and then the crashing descent. They come in series and differ in severity.
Our emotions are like that. They differ in severity and length. Some feelings just hit us slightly, and some are strong and powerful.
Think of the last time you had a strong emotion; maybe it was anger, sadness, or high anxiety. Typically the emotion hits us, escalates to a peak, and then begins to dissipate. There is a swelling, a rising, a breaking point, and then a descent.
When I am in the middle of an intense emotion it can be hard to remember that this feeling will not last forever: I will not always feel this way. The wave will pass me by.
I’m not sure if you have ever been “caught” in a wave and swept right off your feet, but it can be disorienting and even quite scary. You feel (and are) out of control.
So how can we “ride the waves” of our emotions in a healthy way? How can we not get swept away in our emotions and do or say things we later regret?
I know the shame and guilt that comes in the aftermath of an emotional outburst. It can be devastating.
Here are some helpful ways to ride the waves of our emotions:
Know the emotion will end. You will not feel this way forever.
You are not your emotion. Separate yourself from the emotion. Observe the emotion happening and what it feels like in your body.
Don’t believe everything you feel. You don’t need to act just because you feel an emotion strongly in the moment.
Notice the swelling of emotion. Be curious about how your emotions rise up. What happens right before the breaking point?
Accept the emotion. Don’t judge your emotions or yourself for having them.
Ride the wave of emotion. Let it come and go. Remind yourself, I will not always feel this way. The wave will pass me by.
Here’s to surfing the waves!
Liz Scott, M.C., M.T.S., R.C.C., is the newest therapist (and second Liz!) to join the Arbour Counselling team. She is interested in helping individuals struggling with pre and postpartum depression and anxiety, chronic pain and health conditions, sexual abuse and assault, addictions, parenting, marriage, and relationship issues. You can read more about her here: https://www.arbourcounselling.ca/meet-liz-s