How to keep calm, carry on and still honour your emotions
If you tend to bottle up your emotions then let me first say, you are not alone. It’s quite a cultural thing here in the UK, with many of us brought up by parents and grandparents who lived through a war.
Back then, they had to make do and soldier on. We all grew up with this influence. Even today, we see the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ slogan everywhere.
So when something unexpected and bad side-swipes us, a fairly common reflex is to tough it out, smile, perhaps even laugh it off, or go straight into fixing mode, looking for the first quick fix. On the outside this has the appearance of ‘coping’, but it’s only a temporary cover. On the inside our unprocessed emotions are bubbling away.
If we gloss over our problems and bottle up our emotions, sooner or later they will start shouting louder, demanding our attention.
Now, on the other hand, I’m not advocating falling apart. This is not about extreme ends of a spectrum, but rather evolving our mindset a little to make room for our emotions, for the benefit of our wellbeing.
Bottling up our feelings to the point where they either come bursting out in an inappropriate way, or turn inwards raising our stress hormones and blood pressure, is a really unhealthy way to go.
What I’m advocating is taking a little resilience and tenacity from the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ camp, and complimenting it with a little flexibility and presence from the mindfulness camp. I think when combined, the two approaches make for a great balance.
Mindfulness and emotion management
The mindfulness concept of impartial observation is an interesting approach that gives us a good place to start. The idea with this is to observe the emotions we are experiencing without reacting to them and losing perspective. It’s sort of like having a big, imaginary hand pulling you back from the situation and encouraging you to just look for a moment and assess the situation, before you rush in and lose your head.
This sort of perspective is something you can achieve through working with a coach, but you can also get yourself into the habit of doing it in daily life. As and when a strong emotion arises, or a negative situation occurs, remind yourself to observe first. Mentally pause, step back, and just look.
Once you’ve given yourself a chance to look at what’s going on, you can investigate your emotions a little further. When it comes to the mind, things are rarely black and white. An emotional response is rarely a case of ‘x’ plus ‘y’ equals ‘z’. There are usually a few memories or additional fears tangled in with the situation.
It’s a good idea at this point to let yourself process everything that’s going on for you.
Processing to carry on
I think this part is really the key – the processing of your feelings. You can only process something when you’ve allowed it to be. So once you have observed and accepted what is going on for you, and looked at the emotions and fears around it – then you are processing.
This is the point where you can do the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ thing in a healthy way. With emotions understood and processed, you can deal with whatever life has thrown at you in a sensible way, without worries bottled up inside.
Having processed your emotions, you are not risking those feelings spilling over later, nor are you wasting valuable energy on trying to suppress worries or bad feelings.
Balancing it all
Approaching your emotions, and life in general, with a balanced mindset is a healthy path to take. We will all get upset from time to time, and trying to avoid that doesn’t help anyone. We need to give ourselves permission to be complete human beings, emotions and all.
We are not robots and we can’t be expected to keep going like the Terminator when life is throwing obstacles in our path. Equally, we can’t afford to not carry on when the going gets tough.
Being a well-rounded, functioning adult isn’t about being unflappable or unbeatable. Rather, it’s about knowing how to get back up from being knocked back, and move on.
Yes, that might mean we need to have a good cry or a good rant to a friend. Yes, we might need to seek professional help from time to time. And yes, our colleagues might occasionally see us cry. The thing to remember is this is all human and perfectly okay.
When we take the balanced approach, we can vent, rest or cry (or all three) when we need to. Then we can get back up and carry on, often feeling stronger for showing our feelings, or lighter for venting. When we do show emotion, we are more likely to receive support from friends, family or colleagues, which again adds to our strength.
So I’d like to leave you with this. When life surprises you with bad news or a big challenge, remember you are human. Allow yourself to feel what you feel, and ask for support. Take a bit of time to process before jumping into fixing mode, but when you are ready to start fixing, know that you have the resilience to keep calm and carry on.