Sometimes you’re headed towards a crisis and you know it somewhere deep down, but you’re distracted or even consciously avoid the cues, and keep heading down that path.
But, ignoring your own internal warning system can leave you reeling from one crisis to the next.
When you’re stressed and distracted, painful emotions often serve as your body’s warning signals that there is a problem. We all have emotional red flags. The pain of putting your hand on a hot stove causes you to move your hand. It’s uncomfortable, but that physical pain is protective. Emotional pain can also have a protective function. Anxiety about an upcoming meeting that you’re not prepared for or that niggling fear about buying an expensive new car can, like that physical pain, be red flags, warning you that you’re headed into a threatening situation. Rather than push them away, it’s important to begin to notice those emotional warning signs.
In order to respond to your emotional warning system, you have to first tune into your emotions. This can be hard to do, especially in the case of painful emotions you want to avoid, for instance, fear, anxiety or anger. But if you’ve found yourself off-track, in crisis or living in ways that are inconsistent with your values, you may want to tune into your emotions.
When you pay attention to the painful emotions that may be internal signals for you to change course, you can begin by simply noticing what emotions you are experiencing. It’s not necessary to understand why you have an emotion, initially. Simply noting “oh, I’m feeling anxious” is a good place to start. As you become practiced at noticing your emotions, you’ll begin to notice patterns. You’ll have those moments when you notice that “I’m feeling anxious again.” You will then be able to begin to connect those feelings to events happening around you.
If, for example, you notice that you’re, again, feeling anxious about a large purchase, you will begin to have the information to evaluate whether that anxiety is a red flag. Do you have a history of making purchases that you can’t really afford? If so, you might want to stop and pay attention to what that anxiety is telling you.
Responding to your emotional warning system is complicated, because painful emotions, such as fear and anxiety, can have different causes. Sometimes you need to endure physical pain, say the pain of getting a tooth drilled at the dentist, to improve your health. The same is true of emotions. Not all painful emotions are signs that you need to change course. Some are a part of living a productive and fulfilling life.
To effectively respond to your emotional warning system, it may be helpful to view them as messengers. Consider asking yourself what message that emotion is trying to tell you. It might be that it’s time to change course, or that reaching your goals is difficult and includes some level of risk. Whatever they are telling you, beginning to better understand them will help you respond to them.