Emotions are impulses to act. They force you to stop, assess any potential threat, and then act, all in a split second. Some of the strongest emotions, like fear and anger, are very threatening and can trigger the fight or flight response on their own.

People often confuse negative emotions with stress. They are two different things. Negative emotions are just emotions. The stress response involves emotions but transcends them. How you perceive negative emotions and deal with them (or not) is the determining factor in whether or not they trigger a stress response.

For example, if you wake up feeling anxious, you can tell yourself: “Huh, I’m feeling a bit anxious this morning. I’ll have to be very careful to relax a bit more today.” This internal dialogue will negate the stressful potential of the emotion. If you told yourself, “Wow, I really feel anxious. I’m so stressed.” your mind would perceive your anxiety as a threat that you cannot cope with and trigger a stress response. Anxiety, like any other emotion, is a feeling, not stress.

One of the cornerstones of my work is to integrate Japanese psychology techniques drawn from Naikan and Morita therapy in stress management. Both of these forms of Japanese psychology incorporate a uniquely Eastern approach to understanding and managing emotions that is influenced by Buddhism.

The following five principles are derived from the work of David K ​​Reynolds (2002), the man most responsible for bringing Japanese psychology to the United States. These principles clearly illustrate a Japanese psychological approach to understanding emotions.

Principle # 1. Your feelings are not controllable by your will.

While you can learn to identify what you’re feeling and even understand how it relates to your stress, you can’t turn feelings on and off with your willpower. Feelings arise by themselves; They come and go like the wind. It can not will be yourself to feel something you don’t feel For example, stop reading and feel happy. Just use your willpower to feel happy. Okay, now change your focus and get sad. Go ahead, feel sad.

As you can see, you can’t directly control them with just your sheer will. What you can control is you behavior; What do you do in response to your feelings

Principle #2. You must acknowledge and accept your feelings for what they are.

Since feelings come and go on their own and are beyond your ability to control, there is no point in feeling responsible for them or feeling guilty about not being able to control them. Instead of feeling guilty or responsible for your feelings, it’s better to just be aware of what you’re feeling, accept it, and move on.

Principle # 3. Every feeling, no matter how unpleasant, has its uses.

Although you can’t control your feelings, you can use them as a catalyst for action. Acknowledging that you feel guilty, for example, can motivate you to change your behavior and stop doing what is causing the feeling. In this sense, you are using the feeling to identify the behavior and change it.

Principle #4. Your feelings will fade over time unless you stimulate them again.

Feelings, both positive and negative, diminish over time. Unless you do something to reinvigorate them (such as constantly thinking about them and mentioning them quietly), your negative feelings will begin to fade. This is a completely different approach to dealing with feelings from the one promoted by Western psychology, which advocates that you analyze your painful feelings and find out “why” you feel the way you do before taking any action to make them go away .

Principle #5. Your feelings are influenced by your behavior.

Feelings change in response to behavior. For example, it can help get rid of negative feelings more quickly by doing something that promotes positive feelings. Not only will this take your mind off your painful feelings, it will trigger new positive feelings.

Japanese psychology’s approach to dealing with painful feelings is simple; Since you can’t fully control or understand them, it’s a waste of time to work on or analyze them. It’s better to just acknowledge them, accept them for who they are, and stop blaming them for causing your behavior. It is more productive and emotionally healthy to shift your focus to what you can control, your behavior.

A Six-Step Action Plan for Coexisting with Your Painful Feelings

Objective: The following exercise A six-step action plan to coexist with your feelings, is designed to teach you a simple technique for noticing, accepting, and coexisting with painful emotions. It incorporates principles and practices from ACT and Morita therapy and will help you become aware of your painful emotions and be able to co-exist with them.


1. This week, pay more attention to your stressful emotions. You can use a journal to help you keep track of them.

2. Don’t question them or try to find out why you feel them. Simply take note of what you are feeling.

3. After a couple of days of dealing with your troublesome feelings, use the following six steps to help you deal with them:

Step 1. Identify the feeling – Pay close attention to feelings and describe how they affect your body and mind without judgment. Example (using anxiety related to giving a presentation):

“Isn’t this interesting? I’m getting anxious again. I notice that every time I have to give a presentation, I feel like this. My neck muscles start to tense up, my hands get clammy, and I start to breathe.” faster and harder.” a superficial fashion.

Step 2. Accept the feeling– Tell yourself:

“I definitely feel anxious. I’d rather not feel that way, but I guess it’s normal to feel that way when I have to stand in front of a work group and give a presentation.”

Step 3. Tell yourself that you can coexist with these feelings and still act -Example:

“I really envy people who find it easy to give presentations. It’s hard for me to stand up in front of a group, but I can co-exist with my anxiety while giving the presentation. I’ll have to prepare more and just accept the awkwardness.”

Step 4. Redirect your focus – Instead of focusing on your emotions, redirect your attention to behaviors related to the stressful situation that you can change. For example, in this example you can make sure you know the topic inside and out. You can use the practice essay in front of a mirror or a couple of friends to prepare. Review your AV aids and other accessories to shift attention away from you and onto the technology. Make sure you have backup materials in case the main ones fail.

Step 5. Get physical -Take a break and do something physical during this step. If you are at home, be sure to engage in some vigorous physical activity. If you’re at work, take a break and walk a few flights of stairs. If your workplace has a gym, work out.

Step 6. Strengthen your ability to coexist – Remind yourself that you can give a productive presentation despite being anxious. Say to yourself:

“I can do this. My feelings don’t have to control my behavior.”

Over time, becoming more aware of your painful feelings and practicing coexistence with them will become part of your daily routine.

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