So often we confuse thoughts with feelings. We are not the feelings that we experience, yet we often make the mistake of saying statements such as “I'm stressed” or “I’m sad”. By framing our emotions in this way, we are effectively making the emotion a part of our identity when emotions are actually fluid and experiential in nature. They do pass, and you are not be stressed or sad for eternity.
In this article, I’m going to share with you a few tips to help you unhook yourself from your distressing emotions so that they don’t negatively affect your time on board.
Give Yourself Space
Firstly, by creating a space between yourself and your emotions, you are providing yourself the opportunity to self-regulate and reflect on your choices. When we are in the heat of the moment, we tend to act out impulsively which can result in poor behaviours and outcomes. This is when mindfulness and activities such as meditation and yoga can really help to accelerate the development of your self-awareness and create that space between your emotions and your thoughts.
Pay attention to the physiological signs - this is a concrete way of bringing you back to the present moment.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
As clinicians, we teach our clients how to manage their emotional experience rather than letting the emotions manage them. From my experience working in the field, I have seen first-hand the benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Dialectical therapy, which have helped clients regain a sense of calm and control over their thoughts, subsequently producing more positive emotions.
When we are in a state of panic, it’s very difficult to regain a sense of control over our emotions, and this is when you need to enlist these therapies. We teach our clients how to manage their emotional experience rather than letting their emotions manage them.
When we are faced with a problem that it is out of our control, our thoughts may commonly go to: “why me?” and “life is so unfair”. When we are engaged in these thoughts, they are naturally going to make us feel worse or hopeless.
Radical Acceptance is a great tool to use when you find yourself in these situations. It involves reframing your thinking regarding the situations, so rather than focusing on how you would have liked the situation to have had a more favourable outcome, you learn to accept the situation for what it is rather than for what it is not. Please bare in mind though that acceptance is not the same as liking or disliking something.
Here is an example of how you can use radical acceptance:
Situation: You find out that you didn’t get the job following and interview for the yacht you were dreaming of working on.
Unhealthy thinking: “This isn’t fair; this always happens to me; I never get what I deserve.”
Healthy thinking: “It’s disappointing that I didn’t get the job, perhaps it wasn’t meant to be. However I do know that I there will be a perfect position for me where I can make a positive contribution.”
Can you see how in this scenario we can positively restructure our thoughts?
Another tool that you can use to help turn down the volume on the heightened emotion is the DBT distress tolerance acronym ACCEPT. This tool is effective in helping you tolerate your emotions until you are in a position to effectively address the issue in the best way possible.
The DBT distress tolerance acronym ACCEPT is a group of skills to help get you through a negative emotion until you are able to address and eventually resolve the situation, and here is how you can use it to best serve you in a moment of distress:
A: activities. Get involved in activities that can engage your mind in a positive way. A good example of this is mindful colouring, which is known to help calm the mind.
C: contributing. Focus your energy on serving someone else; contributing is not only a positive distraction but it makes you feel good in return.
C: comparisons. Think about a situation where you were dealing with similar or worse feelings – how were you able to overcome this difficulty? Did the feeling pass?
E: emotional engagement. Undertake an activity that will produce a more uplifting emotion - calling a friend is usually a good one! Or even better watching a feel-good movie with a friend.
P: pushing away. I wouldn't recommend suppressing the emotion, but rather allocating time for that emotion. Sometimes we need to give emotion a time and a place.
T: thoughts. Pay attention to your thoughts and ask yourself: “are these thoughts helpful? Is there evidence to support my thoughts?” Guided meditations are also a good way to distract you from your thoughts.
I hope that you can find a tool that works for you. Remember not all of these techniques are going to resonate with everyone - it is very individualised. The first step to changing is having the courage to try.