“Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear?” ~Lao Tzu
When it comes to mental health, I’m all about perspective shifting to help others see their situation in a different light. This is because during my mental health crisis, seeing different perspectives majorly contributed to my healing. As a teenager, my emotional health was out of control. Learning to respond instead of react was a crucial skill I taught myself to become emotionally smarter, and you can too! (Anyone can learn it!)
The Difference Between Reacting And Responding
Reacting is when we take action in the face of an influence, or, “act in opposition to a force or influence.” Reacting is done unconsciously and disempowers us.
Responding is when we acknowledge an influence, or, “make an answer about an influence.” Responding is done mindfully and empowers us.
How Reacting And Responding Relate To Emotional Health
Reacting and responding relate to emotional and mental health because it’s how we’re perceiving our emotions, managing them, and communicating to ourselves.
Three years ago when I had panic attacks, I automatically reacted to situations. For example, I’d run, leave, hide, cry, and breakdown. It always involved some kind of stimulus, which I now realize only fuelled my emotions. Being emotionally out of control is reacting – you’re taking emotional action as a way to fight or avoid something.
Now when I experience panic attacks, I respond to them by acknowledging what I’m feeling and making myself feel understood and heard. I also avoid taking action impulsively without careful thought and consideration of how those actions would affect me. Being thoughtful, patient, and gentle with yourself and your emotions is responding.
What Responding Looks Like
When we respond to emotionally stimulating situations, we’re allowing ourselves to:
1. Pause and be mindful: Clear our heads, take ourselves out of the situation, try to take the emotion out of it, and think rationally. We understand we don’t have to react to the situation right away or at all – we’re patient with ourselves.
2. Gather our thoughts: Where am I? What’s happening around me? Who’s in the room with me? How do I feel? What emotion should I respond with that will most benefit this situation? How do I respond to resolve the problem?
3. Communicate more clearly with ourselves and others: We’re honest about how we’re feeling, and we fully accept what we’re feeling. We don’t talk to ourselves in a harmful way, we’re here for ourselves and communicate in a gentle, healing way.
How To Respond Instead of React
1. Pause: Give yourself time and don’t take immediate response or action.
2. Be mindful: Observe how you’re feeling and where you stand in the stressful situation.
3. Get connected with yourself: Ask yourself what you need. We often have difficulty silencing the mind and responding versus reacting because we fill our minds up with so much jumble from the day, and never communicate with ourselves how we’re feeling, or if we’re doing okay.
4. Be grounded: Being grounded means you’re present in the body and connected with your surroundings and its happenings. You associate your internal emotions individual from your external environment, as if you were a still mountain with the changing seasons occurring around you.
6. Be unattached from expectations: A major cause of being out of control emotionally is when we’re attached to an expected outcome, but that outcome isn’t met. When we teach ourselves to not be attached to expectations, we decrease emotional suffering from the forefront.
Don’t beat yourself up if this information feels overwhelming as if you’ll never achieve it. Emotional health takes time. A really important part of the process is to repeat the steps every time an emotionally stimulating situation comes up so it’ll eventually become a habit. Our prefrontal cortex (the emotion centre of the brain) isn’t fully developed in humans until the late third decade of life. Sometimes we need to take the pressure off ourselves to have our emotions all together, because sometimes it really does just come with time, effort, and experience.
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