All of your stress and related problems are actually the result of overlooked, ignored or misunderstood distressing emotions. Yes, your distressing emotions are causing your stress, which means that you have much more control than you thought!
In order to start managing your stress, you need to learn how to identify what emotion you’re feeling. Believe it or not, it can be really difficult to accurately label an emotion, especially when your emotions are guiding your behavior. But here’s the good news—there are really just eight choices.
All emotions can basically be divided into eight core categories: fear, anger, sadness, shame, disgust and jealousy, plus happiness and love to lighten things up. This limited list makes figuring out which emotion you’re experiencing a more manageable task. (You can read more about the big eight emotions here.)
Now, here’s a surprisingly simple way to combat any of the big eight emotions: Do the opposite of whatever you’re feeling. Opposite action can serve as a kind of shortcut to choosing better behavior. It’s very simple: Whatever urge to act comes with a distressing emotion, do the exact opposite. This opposite action practice can change even painful emotions.
Are you anxious about flying? Get on the plane. Feeling sad because you broke up with your boyfriend? Go to the party. Are you angry because your friends ordered dinner without you? Sit down, call the waiter over, place your order, and join the conversation with a smile on your face.
It’s not always easy to do at first, but it works. Give yourself a little push and start “acting” the part and after a little while, I bet you won’t have to act anymore. If you feel blue and go with your first thought—to stay in bed and not talk to anyone—you will only feel worse. The more you indulge the urge, the bigger the feeling is going to get. You may not entirely control your urge to act, but you do control whether and how you act upon your urge. So get out of bed, go to the party, and socialize—before you know it your mood will have picked up and you’ll be having fun.
One caveat to opposite action: If the emotion you are having is fear and if you are right to feel fear because the situation is actually dangerous, you should heed any action urge that keeps you safe. So that means no jumping out of speeding cars, but yes to feeling confident enough to get into the driver’s seat of your life.