Loyola University Maryland

Counseling Center

Flexible Feeling

“It is now 1 a.m. My midterm paper is due by 5 p.m. tomorrow…no, today. This is a major disaster.  Okay, first things first. I’m going to get something to eat ‘cause I’m starving. No…can’t do that, no clean plates. Fine, I’ll just eat right out of the container. No…can’t do that, no clean utensils. I am SO furious. I am officially living with wild pigs who just want to ruin my life. I’ll just eat with my fingers, I’m starved. Now, where is that flash drive? Here it is. Wait, this isn’t my rough draft!  Oh. No. There were TWO red flash drives on my desk at home. This is NOT the one I need to do my paper. I cannot handle this, I’m going to fail my class!! My future career just went down the toilet.”

Have you ever been in that spot where you feel such a flood of emotions that you don’t think you can handle one more thing?  If so, this page will provide you with some tips and tricks that will give you the Emotional Flexibility to successfully ride the wave of your emotions.   

What Is Emotional Flexibility?

It is the ability to feel whatever you are feeling without becoming paralyzed, ineffective, or destructive to yourself and those around you.

When you are being emotionally flexible…

• You are honest about all you are experiencing (e.g. “I’m feeling so angry right now with my roommates…I’m so disappointed in myself for being in this spot”).  You avoid criticizing and judging your emotions (e.g., “I’m so stupid for feeling this way…I hate that I always get anxious before presentations”).

• You take action that enables you to quiet negative self-judgments enough to problem-solve and get help when needed. [Tip: You might need the help of a trusted friend or mentor for this if you are new with emotional flexibility.]

• You open yourself up to all emotions, not just positive emotions (e.g., You allow yourself to feel sad without judgment in just the same way you allow yourself to be happy without judgment).

Why Is Emotional Flexibility Important? 

Things come at you that you can’t predict or control.  It will trigger all kinds of emotions.  That’s okay.  You’re human.  We all have emotions and it is important to feel them.  You can learn to flow through theseGrumpy Cat times, in a way that keeps you afloat, maintains your relationships, and increases your problem-solving skills.  Now, does that not sound better than getting stuck in mad, sad, and ‘freaked out’ mode and believing that life is constantly working against you? 

What You Can Do:

• Do a gratitude exercise.  Once a day, for 2 minutes, think of/write 3 things you feel good about or are grateful for that impacted your life that day.  Keep it simple.  Keep it brief.  Think about it.

• When something happens that you don’t like:  Stop. Describe it like a news reporter (no editorials!). Name your feelings. Identify where that emotion is living in your body (e.g., Do you feel stress as a knot in your stomach? Do you feel tightness in your chest?).  Breathe in deeply three times for each feeling you are aware of.  Now ask yourself, “Is there anything I must do about this situation right now that would help resolve it in a good way?”  If so, do it.  If not, let yourself sit with the emotion without fighting it.  Experience it and then decide what your next step will be.  [Tip: You might need to talk with a trusted friend or mentor at this point if you are new to this strategy.]

• Check out www.self-compassion.org.  This website provides a self-compassion inventory, which will provide you with some feedback on how compassionate you are to yourself.  Here, you will also learn how to break the habit of criticizing yourself when you don’t meet your expectations and to embrace your positive qualities. 

• Try this emotional flexibility exercise:  Metaphors

Questions For Reflection:

• When was the last time you acted impulsively?  Did that work for you?  What would you have done differently?
• What are the usual situations that trigger your emotions the most?  How do you tend to respond?
• Who in your life is best able and willing to talk you down when things feel out of control?
• How often do you accept your emotions without judging them?
• How often do you engage in self-compassion?

Related Videos:

Emotional Flexibility  
Science of Happiness      

Helpful Handouts:

Monster Under the Bed!
What to Do with Feelings 
Feelings Wheel  
Mindful Emotions