I have a coworker who says she gets disproportionately upset when cars drive in the wrong way in the parking lot. Through more than one set of windows, she has unfettered access to these disappointing behaviors.
It’s me. I’m that coworker.
Okay, just kidding, BUT I often feel as she does, angry about little things that don’t apply to me. I guess you could call me high strung… Caring too much? Too principled?
If you feel similarly, boy do I have the strategies for you: emotional distancing and being emotionally choosy.
By using one, both, or one of your own, you’ll (hopefully) find the following results:
– being less and less worried about the goings-ons of others
– finding yourself less and less upset about the little pointless things that don’t affect you
– ability to play “would you rather” with your emotions (I’m only kind of joking)
– allowing ample space between you and your work
Let’s first talk about emotional distancing
While in physical distancing we create physical space between ourselves and others, in emotional distancing we create emotional/metaphorical/cognitive space between the emotion and the thing you commonly emote about.
So maybe you commonly emote about work stuff, and you’d rather not. Consider practicing emotional distancing. It’s like putting up a plexiglass barrier in a food fight: you can observe and see some impact of the spaghetti but you sure can’t feel it.
In some cases, emotional distancing may include creating a physical barrier. For example, back to my coworker’s dilemma about cars, she could decide to shut the blinds or sit somewhere else. This is a physical solution.
In other cases, you may decide to create cognitive space by working to create affirmations or talkbacks. You could also practice neutralizing others’ actions. Remember that all actions are neutral and that we give them meaning.
Truly the ways we do emotional distancing aren’t unique, but the concept itself is. Hence my bringing it to you. By the way, I’m pretty sure we’re coining this term together right now.
Now let’s talk about being emotionally choosy
Sometimes we do not have choice in an emotion we’re feeling, right? Take fear for example.
Hot take: Sometimes we do not have choice in feeling or acting out anger. With my experience, I really believe that’s the case. Anger is an emotion that can come on so quickly that your mind can’t keep up with (or slow down) your fight-or-flight response. So your body takes over and your mind regrets it later. Others may argue that you always have choices. Please refer them to me.
BUT the vast majority of time in your life, you can choose an emotion — or rather you can choose your thoughts around something, thereby bringing on a certain emotion or subsiding a different one. This is sort of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)’s thing. Rewiring our thoughts (and therefore emotions) to allow us a better quality of life.
Think about it this way: Say you only had a certain amount of emotions on any given day. You may decide to ration them out a little differently than you have been, understanding that certain emotions and emotion intensities have varying return on investment. A little bit of anger may give you a high return on investment (impact) in a bad way whereas a little bit of joy could give you high return on investment in a good way.
If you had to be choosy with your emotions, a limited resource, you would likely choose to reduce the anger and increase the joy. (Granted, this is logical only when you’re not actively experiencing anger.)
If your emotions were a pie chart, I bet you’d choose to capitalize on the ones that increase your quality of life and reduce the ones that don’t. Decide what percentage of your emotions you want to allocate where. You probably don’t want to be angry, upset, depressed 50 percent of the time. So, how do we manipulate those percentages? (Yeah, I call this “self-manipulation” or “manipulation of self” — we are also coining that term today.)
A second tactic for practicing emotional choosiness is identifying the energizing and the draining emotions for yourself. Spend several days to a week writing down specific examples in each category and tie an emotion to them, the best you can. Then plan to reduce ONE emotion from your day from the draining list and add ONE emotion to your day from the energizing list. You just chose your emotions!
Thinking about emotional distancing AND being emotionally choosy
Maybe neither of these ideas resonate with you or maybe both do. If you had to choose one to practice, which would it be? Which one stands out to you more?
This topic is important to me because I’ve learned through life experience, meds and therapy, that learning the strategies to NOT get angry in the first place is 10000000% more effective than trying to learn strategies to use in the moments you are emotionally escalated with anger.
Practice, practice, practice these strategies NOW when you’re logical and coherent and not angry. These are the types of strategies and thinking that paid off for me and made a real, noticeable difference in my life — not the “take 5 deep breaths” that was commonly suggested to me by mental health professionals.
I’m wishing you all the greatest for when you’re awesome and grace for when you slip up (Oh, to be human!).
P.S. in case we haven’t met…
you seem normal is a mental health medium run by 24-year-old communication professional (hello!) who… well, seems normal. Turns out, my roommate is mental illness. Actually more like my unborn, and non-conceived baby. Because it’s like, inside of me. This is getting weird already. Topics of focus: self-awareness (we love it), mood, anger management, perfectionism, relationships & boundaries.
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