How Emotions Can Help Treat Anxiety
Updated: Jun 25
We all have emotions, but sometimes you don’t use your emotions to their best advantage. Emotions are what set us as humans apart from other animals. They can be powerful, at times overwhelming, and yet can help you transform your life if you can understand and harness their power. Emotional self-awareness is the ability to recognize and make sense of your emotions. This self-awareness can assist in treating various symptoms and disorders, in particular anxiety.
Why is emotional self-awareness so important in anxiety treatment? When you’re anxious, you’re usually focused on your thoughts and thus you are not paying attention to your emotions. It is very difficult to attend to both our thoughts and emotions at once. Anxiety is a state of future-orientation, meaning that your thoughts are based on the future. Fear or worry of what’s going to happen in the future, or next, is the bane of an anxious person’s existence. Instead, if you attend to your emotions, you can bring yourself back to the present. If you are focused on the present, then you aren’t worrying about the future.
There are four steps to using your emotions to treat anxiety:
1. Identify Your Emotions
Learning to identify your emotions may seem like a simple concept, but for many of us it is quite difficult. You probably can identify a few of the most common emotions such as happiness, sadness, fear, surprise, anger and disgust, but did you know that there are actually 27 different emotions that you experience? See this link for the study that identified the 27 emotions. Emotions can be complex and identifying what you are feeling at any one given moment may take some practice.
2. Accept Your Emotions
After you identify your emotions, the next step is to accept what you are feeling. Often, we do not want to feel sadness, or shame, or embarrassment, so we try to avoid what we are experiencing because we want to move away from pain. When you accept your emotions, you are accepting yourself as you are and not being angry at yourself for feeling emotions you may not think are acceptable or good. Even though it’s not fun to feel sad, it will be beneficial to identify and then accept the sadness instead of getting angry at yourself for being sad.
3. Sit with Your Emotions
Once you have accepted your emotion, being present and sitting with your emotion for a time period is the next step. This time period can be fairly short, especially if the emotion you’re experiencing is painful, but you don’t want to gloss over the emotion and move on as quick as you can. Your emotions are part of who you are as a person, and being comfortable with your feelings, even the so-called “negative” ones, will benefit your self-awareness and ability to manage strong emotions.
4. Use Your Emotions
Finally, after you have identified, accepted, and sat with your emotions, the next step is to use your emotions to help you treat your anxiety. Anxiety itself can be an emotion, often caused by runaway thoughts. You want to use your emotion that you are feeling to direct your behavior. For example, if you’re feeling sad, maybe you need a quick adult “time out” to figure out what is causing your sadness. If you’re elated, perhaps now is the time to get in an intense workout. And if you’re feeling anxiety, that might be a signal for you to practice some relaxation techniques such as mindfulness or meditation.
Being in touch with your emotions on a daily basis will definitely increase your ability to be present in the moment instead of thinking about the future, and thus help with anxiety treatment. Practicing each of these 4 steps daily will move you more towards a calm, peaceful existence instead of always thinking about what is coming next and how to do it.
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Shannon Heers is a psychotherapist, guest blogger, and owner of Catalyss Counseling in Englewood, CO. Shannon helps adults in professional careers manage anxiety, depression, work-life balance, and grief and loss. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.