Life hands you a lemon and you automatically want to make lemonade. Have you noticed yourself doing that? The old keep your chin up or stay positive programming kicks in and we move straight into it’ll be OK mode. Often our loved ones begin supporting us with that strategy…everything will be fine…look at the bright side! Instead of acknowledging and allowing ourselves to feel those lemons, we jump straight into making lemonade. Or lemon drops. Or lemon bread.
Because allowing ourselves to feel what we’re experiencing can be difficult business. Seeing a loved one experience pain is also difficult. In either situation, in our own discomfort we move into fix-it mode instead of feeling mode. But that will do more harm than good. As the saying goes…feelings buried alive stay alive.
Last year I heard Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., author of Positivity and a leading researcher in the field of Positive Psychology, speak about this at a conference at Harvard. I’ll never forget what she said. Our bodies get flooded with stress hormones when our positive words are not matched with positive feelings. In other words, insincere positivity is harmful to our systems and is actually negativity in disguise. If you’re telling yourself you feel fine when you feel like crap, you’re doing yourself no favors. In fact, you’re creating stress in your system.
Positivity isn’t about ignoring reality or suppressing your feelings. Positive people regularly experience and allow negative feelings to surface. The difference is how they react to their feelings. The feeling occurs and they notice it. They don’t get hooked. They don’t allow their thoughts to take control and lead them down a rabbit hole. They don’t judge the feeling. They also don’t pretend they’re positive when they’re not.
For example, you lose a competition and as a result feel a myriad of emotions. Here are three different responses:
- I feel sad and rejected right now. (Mindfulness)
- Everything is fine. (Negativity in disguise)
- I’m sad I lost. Maybe I’ll never win. I’m a loser. I should just give up now. (Getting hooked – falling down the rabbit hole)
See how responses two and three are more destructive? Two involves pretending – I’m fine! Three is allowing the thought to take over – thoughts take the feeling and turn it into a desperate situation. The first option, mindfulness, stops at the observation of the feeling. Mindfulness severs the link between negative thoughts and negative emotions, according to Fredrickson. Instead of allowing the thoughts to take over, like in response three, you simply observe what you’re feeling in the present moment without judgment.
Mindfulness is non-judgmentally being aware of your present experience…your thoughts and emotions in this very moment…without judging them. You observe that you’re sad without trying to analyze why or judging yourself for feeling it. You just notice and allow it. There’s no dramatic reaction. Just awareness. Notice when you do that, the intensity of the thought/emotion lessens.
I know…mindfulness isn’t something that’s learned over night. It takes time to develop, but like anything else it gets easier with each use. Commit to trying it today, and in the meantime, while you practice developing your mindfulness muscle, here are a few things you can immediately embrace if you find yourself dealing with lemons.
Declare a Timeframe
Last week I was handed a big, fat juicy lemon. Immediately some of the loving people in my life began jumping into the positive side of the situation. My response? I’m not ready to go there yet. I’m giving myself 24 hours to feel my frustration, disappointment and heartache around this situation. Then we can talk about alternative ways of looking at this. I gave myself the gift of not faking positivity when I wasn’t ready for it. I avoided that internal stress Barbara discussed.
As a result I was able to process the situation much faster. I didn’t waste the day beating myself up about not being more positive about the situation. My grief passed within 24 hours. The next day I woke up exhausted but ready to explore alternatives. (If I woke up after 24 hours and needed more time, I would have given myself more time.)
Ask Others to Hold a Positive Space for You
Ask supportive people in your life to hold a positive space for you. Even if you can’t do that for yourself right now, having others send positive energy to your situation – through thoughts, prayers and wishes – will help. Remember, it doesn’t mean having them tell you everything will be fine when you’re not ready to hear that. It simply means that they hold in their hearts the intention that everything will work out for you.
Do Something Nice for Yourself
Dealing with my lemon last week, I decided to do something for myself as I slept – to help heal and recover. I moved my oil diffuser into our bedroom. Each night, using law of attraction, I selected one oil, which diffused as we slept. It felt like I was sleeping in a spa. And while it didn’t fix my situation, it did bring me peace, knowing that I was doing something good for myself even as I slept.
Redefine What Strong Means
Are you normally the strong one? I can’t be crying. I’m the strong one! Allow yourself to take a break from that role if it helps you process your emotions. Consider the strength you’re exhibiting by allowing your feelings. Maybe strength has a different definition in this situation.
Ask for Help
Not a new message, but an important one. Ask for help from whatever you believe in. God, Angels, Universe, other. It doesn’t matter. As you go to bed, as for help with your situation. Whether it’s finding peace in your heart, or an insight, or anything else.