Coping with Unpleasant Emotions

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Editor’s Note: Aero Crew News readers have enjoyed Reini Thijssen’s articles as a contributor to our FITNESS column. Through the months we have come to realize the value of her contributions to our mental fitness, and we believe that fact merits a positive action. Reini has agreed to become the author for her own column, which we are fondly and metaphorically calling BAGGAGE. We all carry it, and Reini can help us “pack” ours in more advantageous, healthy and productive ways.  

Fear, sadness, jealousy, anger, guilt, grief – unpleasant emotions can significantly impact our day-to-day life. Especially at a time when things are continually going differently than expected, people cope with more painful emotions yet have fewer ways of handling their challenges. Ignoring them or taking your stresses out on others might be easier in the short-term. However, these emotions might contain valuable lessons that can lead to progress and growth over the long term. This article provides insight into the purpose, the warning signs, and helpful solutions on how to cope with unpleasant emotions. 

1. Fear

Purpose: Acute fear, if not overwhelming, makes us more attentive to our surroundings. The right amount of anxiety makes our senses keener; we will see, hear and smell more sharply. Anxiety increases our energy level and makes us more disciplined, which is helpful when faced with challenges. Worry about the future can also help prevent mishaps. 

Warning signs: Long-term irrational fear can dominate your life and eventually become a mental roadblock with a paralyzing effect. Research shows that the more you fight feelings of anxiety, the more negative thoughts emerge. When allowing fear, the thoughts will become less powerful.

Solution: Be aware of your fears and how they are worded in your mind. The words we give to our fear are essential. Describe your feelings around anxiety more positively. For example, if talking in front of an audience gives you anxiety, describe it as “feeling healthy tension” instead of “I am scared.” It will help you to feel motivated and perform better. 

Additionally, ask yourself, “When I think about the fear I am feeling right now, what is the worst that could happen?” Visualize and describe the various aspects of your anxiety in as much detail as possible. This will help put the fear into perspective, and you might realize that some challenges are not as menacing as you once thought. Or you might be able to think of solutions or preventions. By looking at the feelings of anxiety from a distance, a broader perspective helps you discover opportunities – which helps you to regain a sense of control.

2. Anger

Purpose: Anger can be a useful signal that can help initiate change. If you do not like something, anger can spark the motivation to make change happen. Overall, people who show anger are better at setting boundaries, are more adventurous and enterprising, and appear more confident. 

Warning signs: Anger can lead to uncontrolled and unfiltered behavior, possibly leading to emotional, verbal, or even physical aggression. These forms of anger can cause long-term negative consequences, such as losing meaningful relationships. 

Solution: When the feeling of anger arises, try to control it. Deep breathing and counting might sound silly, but they do help to calm the nervous system. Next, take a step back, excuse yourself to leave the room for a minute if possible, and ask yourself questions: 

  • Why am I feeling this?
  • What is it about what happened/has been said that makes me feel this way?
  • Is this person deliberately talking down to me or not? 
  • Could my emotion be connected to something else that is going on in the present, or even from the past? 

The next step is to express anger appropriately. Even though it might not be easy to express oneself in an emotional situation, trying will help you get better at it. As accurately as possible, try to respectfully articulate to your adversary what is bothering you. The other person is more likely to listen, providing a greater chance of strengthening the relationship. 

Self-Control Exercise: Keep an Anger Journal

  • 1. Briefly describe what made you angry today? 
  • 2. How intense was your anger? From extreme, intense to not intense: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  • 3. What were your thoughts?
  • 4. What did you feel in your body? Where did you feel it? 
  • 5. How difficult was it to control your anger? From completely losing control to feeling in control of your anger: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  • 6. What was your reaction to your anger? Did you express your anger? If so, how? 
  • 7. Did you feel regret? If so, about what?
  • 8. How did you calm down?

If you keep this diary for a month, chances are you can start discovering patterns. These questions may help:

  • 9. What things make me most angry?
  • 10. Which pattern can I recognize? 
  • 11. If this anger is fear or pain in disguise, what does that fear or pain consist of?

3. Guilt

Purpose: Feelings of guilt help adjust our moral compass. Generally, feelings of guilt can make people more generous and cooperative, decreasing our selfish impulses and urges, which helps improve our relationships. Guilt increases our awareness. It helps to increase your self-awareness that something has been done or said that you regret, and luckily you can usually make up for it. 

Warning signs: It is crucial to take action when feeling guilty. Feelings of guilt can become destructive if not handled with care. If doubts and thoughts keep popping up, such as thinking that you are a terrible person because of your actions, it is no longer about one behavior but feeling bad about yourself as a person. This can impact your way of thinking and lead to a negative self-image and low self-esteem. 

Solution: Do not hide your feelings. Own them and name them instead. Remember, being alive also means making mistakes. To change, take action. Apologize, directly or indirectly, to repair the damage in a way that fits the situation. For example, if the victim is no longer there, donate money to a charity they were passionate about or help their family. When feeling guilty about having little quality time with your family, take another look at your work-life balance. Realize that wallowing in guilt is not helping anyone. 

Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Are you feeling ashamed? Why? 
  • What was your intention? Was your intention good? Be gentle with yourself. 
  • How would you judge if a friend had done the same?
  • Is there anything else you can do about it?
  • What lesson can you learn and take with you into the future?
  • What do you need to change your way of thinking, your habits, your behavior, or lifestyle to minimize the chance of recurrence?

4. Grief

Purpose: Grief can help strengthen the connection with loved ones and makes you realize who and what in life is essential. Showing grief mobilizes others since they want to support you and be there for you. Grief is for something/someone that is no longer there, such as a friendship or something physical such as a home. Grief indicates the loss of something positive – that person or home held meaning within you.

Warning signs: Feelings of grief can decrease the serotonin level in your body and increase the stress hormone cortisol. In the short-term, grief impacts your sleeping pattern and appetite. Long-term grief can affect your physical and mental health and has been associated with a weaker immune system, heart disease, depression, and anger issues. 

Solution: 

1. Do not judge yourself or your grief. There is no set formula for how to experience grief. The experience is different for anyone in any situation. Do not compare your grief with that of others. Accept and be aware of your feelings. Pushing grief away will only make the problem worse.

2. Ask for help. Many people keep their grief to themselves, some more than others. Talking about an unpleasant situation is difficult, and it might be challenging to admit that we need help. 

Though there might not be a solution to the situation that caused your grief, loved ones can support you in various ways to process your feelings of hopelessness. 

3. Try to find distractions. Make plans to do things that will distract from your grief. While it is good to be aware of your feelings, take a break from time to time to relax. Do things with friends or family and try not to feel guilty if you are not busy mourning. Remember, that this is also part of the process.

5. Regret

Purpose: Regret provides insight into ourselves to learn from mistakes so that we are better equipped to make different choices into the future. Expressing regret also helps to generate sympathy from others. People are more likely to support you when you can be vulnerable. Healthy regret leads to positive action; it is a motivation to improve yourself. 

Warning signs: Regret becomes a problem if you can’t let go of the regret, especially when we get stuck in the past and don’t learn from our mistakes. Not letting go increases our stress level and can lead to anxiety disorders and depression when we focus on what can contribute to low self-esteem and less self-confidence.

Solution: Remember that regret has a function – survival. It is a signal that our choices can have negative consequences. This insight allows us to correct our decisions and learn to do things differently in future situations. If there is nothing you can do about it because the action has been too long ago, or the opportunity has now passed, there is no point in worrying about it. Accept that and let go.

Do not be too hard on yourself. Consider for yourself what the circumstances were. Did you have the knowledge you have now? Sometimes we do not have the correct or sufficient information on which to base our choices. Also, consider what you would say to a friend in the same situation, and tell that to yourself. Self-compassion helps to deal with regret through more acceptance.

Think positively. Instead of worrying about what you did wrong or what you did not do, ask yourself the following two questions: 

1. What is the worst that could have happened? 

2. What have I learned from it? 

6. Jealousy

Purpose: Jealousy is often confused with envy. These are similar concepts, but there is a difference; jealousy means that you want something that someone else has, where envy implies that you want something that someone else is – their attributes. 

Even though jealousy often has a negative connotation, it can also be a strong motivational force. Feelings of jealousy can increase the motivation to strive for something that you find essential. When experiencing jealousy, this is a signal that you think something is important in that moment. Realizing what makes you jealous will help you better understand what is important to you.

Warning signs: Unfortunately, jealousy can cause problems in multiple life areas such as in relationships, friendships, or work. Jealousy can lead to thinking that you are “not enough,” which causes stress and low self-esteem. When people are jealous, it often has to do with mistrust, rejection, threat, and loneliness. If people are envious, it has to do with shame, a sense of failure, and dissatisfaction.

Solution: Use the feelings of jealousy for a moment of self-reflection. Acknowledge the feelings and understand what makes you insecure. Find out why you are experiencing these jealous feelings. What is what the other has that you want? Sometimes the answer lies elsewhere than where you think. Be realistic and investigate if your thoughts are true, zoom out from the situation and try to put it into perspective. Try not to feel too guilty about jealous feelings since it will not stop the feelings, but do not let them get in the way of your relationships.

Final Note
As with all emotions, unpleasant emotions are human. Everyone experiences them, and there is no point in suppressing them. Suppressing emotions can have a more significant negative impact on both your mental and physical health. Instead, try facing these emotions and acknowledge that they are there, and investigate what these feelings are really about. Feeling stuck? A mental health professional can help process these emotions on a deeper level for more growth and self-development. 

SOURCEAero Crew News, April 2021
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Reini Thijssen is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHCA) and certified life coach specializing in working with aerospace professionals. She has been a writer for Aero Crew News since 2019 and covers various topics related to aviation concerning life- and career changes, relationships, and overall mental health. Reini is in private practice at Emerald Mental Health. She offers online mental health support to adult individuals and couples coping with a wide range of challenges such as anxiety, burnout, grief, and stress. For more information and questions, contact reini@emeraldmentalhealth.com

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