Who is in control? You or your cartoon elephants (emotions!)?



Emotions that control peoples’ lives prevent them from doing the things they love, working hard to achieve goals, tolerating pain in order to get somewhere in life, building mastery over situations that may feel threatening at first, and participating fully in what life has to offer.

Anxiety can prevent us from being social, meeting new people, taking risks, reciprocating kindness or disclosure, and showing people our vulnerabilities. Anxiety can get in the way of going to school or work, driving, attending public events, talking to people we want to talk to, and going to the places that we want to go. Some people’s lives are so restricted by anxiety that they can’t leave their house.

Sometimes people will say “I just don’t feel like it” or “It is too hard.” Sometimes it is easier to stay in bed and avoid things in our lives that create challenges. Sometimes people will say “It depends on my mood.” If they are in a bad mood, they will avoid commitments that might be wise to attend. Sometimes people will say “I didn’t go there or do that because I was depressed or anxious.”

People that feel more in control of their lives and their emotions will sometimes do things they don’t feel like doing. This may have something to do with seeing the value in doing the behavior- or the consequence in not doing it. If someone was terrified of driving and they learned how to drive, their ability to master new things (despite anxiety) would increase. If someone was able to hold their ground despite having someone angry with them, they may feel more influential when around angry people. If someone could sit through a class despite being worried that they won’t know the answers, they would get better at sitting through class.

In some cases, emotions give us good information about ourselves and our environments. They are like alarm bells that tell us what to avoid, what is threatening, what is scary, and what is unworthy of our efforts. They have good reasons for being around and are worth paying attention to.

But what if emotions- at least some of the time, weren’t giving you accurate information about your environment? What if you could do anything you wanted- if only you could tolerate your emotions long enough to accomplish it? Consider the value of approaching something that you would rather avoid, tolerating an emotion long enough for it to change, or facing an unwanted task despite how you feel about it.

What would you do if you had the courage?