Did you know it takes 90 seconds for you to process the emotional onslaught of a strong emotion? Strong emotions are, well, really overwhelming, and probably unavoidable. These are the emotions that hit you like a giant tsunami and leave wreckage in their wake.
These uncomfortable emotions manifest from a surge of hormones let loose by the limbic system that turn the sympathetic nervous system on high. This ancient part of our brain is responsible for emotions, making memories and reacting to instinct.
Particularly strong emotions feel like they will last FOREVER– anger, fear, anxiety, frustration– they don’t just feel like a passing storm, they feel like they may drown you.
But guess what? Your body deals with the physical hormonal imbalance of the strong emotion, washing it away into residual memory in 90 seconds.
This gives a whole new power to the act of sitting, breathing through our emotions.
If I can manage to stay with my breath for 90 seconds, then the emotion will subside. Sure, just like a stormy sea, another wave may roll up on me in a few minutes. But that wave will resolve itself too, in a mere 90 seconds.
Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, author of When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult writes this:
“The problem is that we have so little tolerance for uncomfortable feelings. You try everything to escape them, but if, somehow, you could stay present and touch the rawness of the experience, then you can learn something. Connect with the physical sensation in your body. It always feels really bad; it’s usually a tightening in the throat or the heart or the solar plexus. Stay with that and say to yourself, ‘Millions of people all over the world have this kind of discomfort, fear – you don’t even have to call it anything – this feeling of not wanting things to be this way. This is my link with humanity.’ Just connect with the idea that this moment is a shared experience all over the world.”I published my Ocean Breathing for Strong Emotions in spring 2016, and received amazing feedback. Please read it here: “thoughts like a calm ocean.”
This time around I’ve got something special for you: your very own Guided Meditation Audio Track. Anytime you experience a particularly strong and uncomfortable emotion (I definitely had a few of these times while I was planning for my wedding this year!) remember: you only have to manage to swim for 90 seconds. Sit, breathe, imagine yourself floating in the center of the calm ocean. You can swim your way out.
1. Dive in: Watch your thoughts come and go. Do not control or manipulate. Do not change or rush. Notice that the thoughts are like waves. They arise out of the ocean of consciousness and then dissolve right back to where they came from. They were never separate.
2. Get Wet: If there is one wave that is particularly strong, big, or threatening, do not turn your back on it. Allow the wave to wash over you. Even if the wave crashes on you, as if the emotion is particularly strong, stay with it. Do not swim away. Let the wave crash and the water droplets re-join the ocean.
3. Float: Whenever new thoughts arise, like waves raised by the wind, watch them dissolve back into the ocean. Allow yourself to float in the center of your experience. Eventually, your thoughts will be like a calm ocean.
When you feel ready to integrate back into your daily life, do so slowly and mindfully. Take a few minutes to vacation from worrying and then float through your day.