Decoding Your Emotions

As a psychologist, a common concern I have heard is "I just don't feel safe. I feel a sense of dread when I wake up in the morning." The act of war on September 11th has left many of us feeling shaky, confused, grief-stricken and angry. What can you do when  you are flooded with negative emotions that you just can't shake? There are a few things you can do.

First, understand that you don't have to remain at the  mercy of your negative emotions. You can decode them, translating powerful emotions into specific words. For example, if you feel anxious, ask yourself "If my anxiety could speak, what would it say?" You will be able to identify causes of your mood, such as "I am worried that my husband may be called up for active duty and never return."  This may be a justifiable fear that you will have to face. However, if your husband is 70 years old, this is an irrational fear; and you will be able to detect this more readily when you name your specific fear. That will reduce your anxiety.

All emotions can be decoded. Sadness signifies a loss. If you are feeling sad, ask yourself,  where specifically am I experiencing a loss? Anger signifies an injustice. If you are feeling angry, ask yourself, what seems "not fair" in my life? If you want an easy way to learn how to decode your negative emotions (or positive ones), I highly recommend the book, "Mind Over Mood" by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky.

Second, remind yourself of what makes your life joyful - maybe a symphony concert, a basketball game, your job as a gourmet chef or spending time with your  children. To preserve your optimistic sense of life, you must give yourself breaks from realistically-based negative emotions (e.g., fear, grief, anger) and experience what makes your life enjoyable. My husband and I go away every few weeks for a romantic overnight. It's a short trip, and particularly in these past weeks, it has re-energized me.

Finally, powerlessness is an awful emotion, but one that many of us feel in the wake of the terrorist attacks. If you are feeling powerless, becoming involved in some manner will help. Donating blood and contributing to the families of the murdered has helped many cope. Gaining information about the politics, religions and ethos of the Middle East can also help reduce the sense of powerlessness.