How are you feeling today? Have you taken a couple of minutes to be aware of your emotions? And if not, why? Don’t think you need to? Too busy?
Well, while you’re considering your goals for the new year, how about adding a healthy morning ritual to your list?
If you’re not aware of your emotions, then you’re that much more likely to react to anything and everything that goes on around you. And that may not be the healthiest way to spend your day.
It’s human nature to start the day in what I call "reactive mode." We walk around in sadness, or fear, or anger, kind of hovering below the surface. Then, the simplest obstacle happens and — whoosh! — all these feelings come raging up.
Here are some examples of what can happen if you’re starting the day in reactive mode:
* You are close to tears over a simple comment or gesture and you’re not sure why.
* You get a rush of anger when a car slows down in front of you that makes you want to holler.
* You find yourself feeling super anxious in the middle of a day that isn’t any more hectic than usual.
So... What’s going on?
How to Create a Morning Ritual
What happens when you’re in reactive mode is that, whether you take the time to be aware of your feelings or not, your feelings are still there ready to bubble up at a moment’s notice. The problem is, your emotions may be easily triggered by situations that might not normally react to. Furthermore, you may react much more strongly than you intended to. Somehow, the gate opens and the horse is out of the barn.
Being in reactive mode can have some pretty negative results. First, it can leave you walking around in a state of stress, with feelings coming out of nowhere. You may end up spending the day dwelling on negative feelings and not sure why. That’s going to have an impact on your wellness. When those emotions get released, they may be directed toward anybody in striking zone and damage your relationships. Who needs to have their day ruined for what, looking back, was for no valid reason?
I think that one of the best ways to avoid letting yourself fall into reactive mode is by getting the day started off on the right foot: Be fully aware of what’s going on with yourself emotionally. If you’re aware, then you can maintain your perspective.
For example, when your co-worker says something that suddenly sets you off, you can remind yourself of what you’re really frustrated about, and not have to react in the moment. Or, you can be extra kind to yourself, and avoid situations that might be upsetting. In other words, fully aware of your feelings so that you are more in control.
So you may be asking: How do I get in this awareness zone before I leave home? Well, I have an answer for that. It’s a simple ritual that only takes a few minutes each morning before you get started, with results that can stay with you wherever your day takes you.
Here’s how it works:
First, get into your mind. If you can sit in a quiet place for five minutes, great. But you can do this in the shower, while you’re making breakfast, while you’re doing morning housework… wherever you can be with your own thoughts.
Ask yourself a simple question: How am I feeling? Do a quick inventory of your emotions and see what pops up. Anger? Sadness? Fear? Happiness? Don’t judge your emotions — you feel what you feel. Don’t try to explain them away, either. After you have identified how you’re feeling, take a moment and make a mental list of your emotions.
Ask yourself: What am I worried about today? Chances are, there is something on your mind that has you worried. A situation at work. Your finances. Your kids. Be specific with yourself about exactly what it is that’s worrying you. If you don’t, you may be walking around with what therapists call “free floating anxiety” and those worried feelings may get attached to just about everything that could possible worry you that day. Leaving you worried and more worried. Remind yourself of what you have control over and what you don’t have control over. If you do have control, then review your plan. If you don’t, then let it go.
Ask yourself: Am I angry about anything? Anger is one of those emotions that we often push to the side, and tell ourselves we shouldn’t be feeling that way. But it’s human to feel angry. So if some angry feelings surfaced during the emotional inventory you did, ask yourself what you’re angry about. If you can identify it, then you can kind of put a fence around your angry feelings. This way, you can keep them where they belong – focused on what’s causing the anger – and consequently be less likely to let the anger leak out in situations it doesn’t belong. And while you’re fencing in the cause of your anger, if your anger has been caused by the actions of another person, you might also think about what it would mean to forgive that person and let the anger go away. Wouldn’t that be a relief?
Ask yourself: What am I sad about? Lots of things can make us feel sad. Sometimes we can readily identify what’s causing the sadness and sometimes the cause is not so clear. Either way, if you’re feeling sad, be aware that you may be a little raw today. Do what you can to be kind to yourself.
Ask yourself: Who do I need to be extra kind to today? Sometimes we wake up with another person on our mind. A co-worker, family member, or another person that we anticipate encountering who frustrates or angers us in some way. If you wake up with someone like that on your mind, also decide to show some extra kindness toward that person today. Being kind is a great way to create a connection and to avoid confrontation. Wouldn’t it be worth the effort to have a better day?
Finally, ask yourself: What am I happy about? If you don’t have an immediate answer to this question, then don’t give up until you come up with one. There’s always something to be happy about, something in life that gives us pleasure, that we are grateful for. That cup of hot coffee? The sunny day? The person who greeted you this morning? If you can keep that happy thought in your mind, the things that might bother you are that much less likely to. Being happy helps you to stay focused on what’s working in your life.
The morning ritual is a great way to start your day in awareness.
I have a small plaque by me door that I use as a reminder to do my morning ritual before I leave in the morning. Just in case I get in a rush and forget. You could also make a note to yourself and stick it inside your medicine cabinet. Or set an alarm on your phone.
Wake up! Start your day aware of your feelings. Better that than spend the day in reactive mode. And see how much better your day goes!
Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and author in New York City, who specializes in working with individuals diagnosed with chronic and catastrophic medical conditions, their caregivers, and professionals. He maintains a website, www.JustGotDiagnosed.com.