Click here to join our daily meditations to support establishing a regular sitting practice.

How to Work with Difficult Emotions

Training the mind with meditation is not about suppressing emotions. Rather, Dharma practice teaches us to become aware of them in a healthy way, so we can respond rather than react.

Before we explore specifics, let’s begin with the general approach for working with difficult emotions from a place of presence and awareness:

  • Acknowledge the emotion. Don’t try to push it away or judge yourself for feeling it. Simply name the emotion for what it is. “I’m feeling angry,” or “I’m feeling sad.”
  • Focus on your breath. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by emotion, take a few slow, deep breaths. This can help to calm your nervous system and bring your attention to the present moment.
  • Create space. If you can, take some time for yourself to process your emotions. This could involve going for a walk, taking a bath, or spending time in nature.
  • Be kind to yourself. Difficult emotions are a normal part of life. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling.

Now, let’s look at some specific techniques for working with different emotions:

Anger

Notice the physical sensations of anger in your body. Perhaps it’s a tightness in your chest or a clenching of your jaw.

Ask yourself what triggered your anger. What is the underlying need that isn’t being met?

Use assertive communication to express your needs, rather than resorting to aggression.

Try taking a 1-minute pause, or taking 3 mindful breaths. Find what works for you to walk the path between acting out and repressing your anger.

Anxiety or Fear

Identify the object of your anxiety. Is it a specific event, or a more general feeling of worry?

Challenge your anxious thoughts. Are they realistic? What is the worst that could happen?

Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.

Sadness

Allow yourself to feel your sadness. Don’t try to bottle it up.

Cry if you need to cry. Tears can be a healthy way to release pent-up emotions.

Reach out to a friend, family member, or therapist for support.

Loss or Grief

Give yourself time to grieve. Grief is a process, and it takes time to heal.

Find healthy ways to express your grief, such as journaling, talking to a therapist, or creating art.

Allow yourself to remember the person you lost with love.

Cultivate the gentleness and inner space that soothes the heart.

Try to incorporate simple mindfulness practices into your daily routine.

Loneliness

Connect with others. Spend time with loved ones, join a club or group, or volunteer in your community.

Practice self-compassion. Loneliness is a common human experience.

Nurture your hobbies and interests. Spending time doing things you enjoy can help to boost your mood.

Angst or Apathy

What’s it all about? What’s the point?

Explore your values and purpose in life. What matters most to you?

Connect with something larger than yourself. This could be nature, spirituality, or a cause you care about.

Find ways to make a positive impact on the world.