But as I learned this weekend, after a temper tantrum and a bit of mindfulness, it just doesn’t exist. Read on and I’ll tell you how to deal with it anyway.
Sunday was my guy’s birthday bash – a surprise outing to the city for bowling and boozing with some of his good friends. Though I’m not much a fan of large groups, I was pretty excited to go.
Until Saturday night, when I found out the dress code: dressy casual, which did not include my pre-planned jeans and cute top ensemble.
Cue the rage.
I seriously don’t know where the hell it came from, but I was mad. Like blood boiling, out-of-control kinda irritation. It was like an out-of-body (or maybe out-of-mind) experience.
I know, it sounds completely ridiculous - I was freaking out over a stupid outfit?
Look, you gotta understand: I have zero fashion sense. None. I’m lucky I match most days.
So the pressure of having to actually look nice was enough to bust my “maybe this will be fun” bubble.
I hadn’t been that irritated in quite a while – I was skipping along through life, smiling at my serenity and enjoying the absence of anger.
Then suddenly, there it was, full force.
I didn’t know what to do with it.
First, I let it run rampant. My thoughts snowballed in a catastrophic sequence:
- OMG I have to dress up?! I have nothing to wear.
- Even if I did, I don’t have any sense of style. I can never put anything cute together.
- Everyone else there will probably look super cute. I’ll never look as good as they will and I’ll totally stand out.
- Then I’ll be even more awkward, because I’ll LOOK awkward.
- I’m totally gonna ruin my boyfriend’s birthday bash with my awkwardness.
- I’m not even going.
And so on…
Yes, I know, it’s ridiculous. Trust me. But that was my brain on anger.
After I threw my 3-year-old style tantrum, at one point, my higher self nudged me: You don’t know that any of this will even happen. For all you know, you could find a cute outfit and have a great time.
Of course, my inner toddler screamed back, “NO I WON’T!” , and I went back to my tantrum.
And so it went, back and forth: “You’ll be fine” versus “The world is ending!”
There was one major difference between this and previous tantrums though: I was aware of what was happening.
I knew I was being ridiculous. I knew that things would probably turn out okay.
Did it take away that crappy feeling that anger brings with it? Sure didn’t.
But, in some way, it made it easier to deal with. Just that awareness of my mood brought with it an underlying current of peace, even if I couldn’t feel it right then.
Has this ever happened to you? (Please don’t tell me I’m the only raving lunatic crying over clothes here)
Have you ever tried to get rid of a negative emotion? How’d that work out for ya?
I’m learning that you can’t escape them. They’re going to happen, awareness or not. You’re going to still feel angry, sad, hurt – awareness or not.
And sometimes, you’re gonna be mad about something completely stupid (like an outfit). It happens.
You can’t stop it from happening, but you can get through it in tact. Here’s how:
How to get through a bad mood without ripping your hair out:
- Acknowledge how you’re feeling. Are you over-the-top angry? Super sad? Acknowledge it. Vent. Rant. Let it out – probably the worst thing you could do is pretend that you’re not feeling that emotion. Honor it. So for me, that meant a 4-page text message to my best friend and whining to my dear mom.
- Really get into the why. Why are you so upset? On the surface, it would seem that I was just mad over not having an outfit, but really it was so much more than that. I was nervous about being in a group and feeling uncomfortable (the outfit was just the last straw).
- Challenge the reasons. I was mad because A) I have very little fashion sense and can never put anything cute together; B) I was gonna be uncomfortable and awkward; C) I was probably going to ruin my guy’s good time. Challenging them, I was able to see that these things aren’t necessarily true, and that by obsessing over them, it was more likely that they would be true. I remembered other times when I went out in a group and had tons of fun; how I clean up nicely when I need to; that my guy wanted me at his birthday, and me being quiet wouldn’t ruin his fun. So where is your bad mood coming from? Are you letting irrational or untrue thoughts get you down like I was?
- Short-circuit the snowball effect. If you’re in a crappy mood, it’s way easy for those negative thoughts to spiral out of control. But at some point, you have to say enough is enough. I did my fair share of that this weekend, but eventually I began to cut ‘em off, and the snowball would stop after 2 or 3 negative thoughts (versus running rampant and ending in tears). The snowball effect is gonna happen – but how far you let it go matters. For example, once I realized what I was doing, I decided enough was enough…But of course, the thoughts kept coming, and I began to try to run with them: “I don’t have anything to wear. This is gonna suck. I’m going to…” And I’d stop myself. I’d remind myself that I don’t know how it’ll go, and catastrophizing the future is not going to help the situation.
- Feel what you feel. Don’t try to stop it. Trying to stop being angry is probably just gonna make you angrier, because you can’t. Honor that feeling, sit with it, be there for it. In his book “True Love,” Thich Nhat Hanh says this of anger:
If something negative comes to the surface, such as your despair and anger, you need the energy of mindfulness to embrace it.
Breathing in, I know that anger is there in me.
Breathing out, I care for my anger.
This is like a mother hearing her baby cry out. She is in the kitchen, and she hears her baby wailing. She puts down whatever she has in her hands, goes into the baby’s room, and picks it up in her arms. You can do exactly the same thing – embrace the pain that is coming to the surface.
6. Know that it won’t last forever. When you’re in a bad mood, it feels like it’s never gonna end. But you know, somewhere underneath the sadness, anxiety, whatever, that it will. Remind yourself of this. Your inner toddler may resist and yell back, but that’s ok. On some level, it’s hearing the message.
Do these steps get rid of the anger?
No. But they’re not supposed to – that’s the point: You can’t get rid of negative emotions (at least not always).
No matter how much you smile, brush it off, or stop your mental train wreck of streaming thoughts, the emotion will still be there. You still have to experience it.
But those strategies help you deal with it a little better than the alternative: avoiding the experience, pretending you’re okay, getting mad because you can’t stop being mad, and letting your thoughts run out of control.
Honor every part of your experience, even the bad parts.
That’s what I did, and while the anger certainly lingered, I was able to get through it without totally losing my mind (though my mom might argue that one )
I’m happy to report that the next morning, I woke up determined not to repeat the previous evening. The first outfit I tried on worked (so I didn’t have to go shopping – YAY!!), I got ready in plenty of time…And guess what else? I had a BLAST. I was still quiet, yes, but not so unbearably awkward that I was miserable. I was just social enough as was comfortable for me (and maybe a little more, after the giant fishbowl of rum-filled punch).
My ridiculous tantrum the night before was so wrong. I’m glad I got over it and had a great time.
I write this to show you a different way to experience negative emotions. You don’t have to run from them, try to stop them or let your thoughts run you into a frenzy. Harness the power of mindfulness and be present for your anger: drop the snowball effect, honor the experience, and know that you’ll come out on the other side.
No tips and tricks to be 100% positive and sunshiny (if you figure it out, lemme know!) – but 6 steps to dealing with the negative emotions that are bound to pop up.
How do you deal with negative emotions? Do you ever notice the snowball effect of those bad-mood induced thoughts? (That’s the worst part, I think!)
Peace, love and a steaming cup of Zen,