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Get that Paper Bag Off Your Head!

November 13, 2011

Have you ever awakened anxious and depressed, like you had a paper bag over your head? Did you ask yourself why you were feeling that way? If you didn’t get a clear answer, what did you do?

STUCK OR UNSTUCK? The temptation is to focus on how bad we feel. This can keep us stuck inside that brown bag on a mental merry-go-round, just feeling bad. But there is a way to get unstuck. These two simple questions can help: What am I feeling? and What do I want?

LABEL THAT FEEING! Yes, we already know we feel lousy. But when we deliberately label what we are feeling,we do something different. We locate that feeling in time and space. We make it concrete–something we can manipulate instead of giving it power to run us.

WE CAN CHANGE OUR BRAIN Recent brain research by Matthew Lieberman of the University of California, Los Angeles suggests that simply labeling our feelings—angry, anxious, overwhelmed, sad—changes our brain.

A little almond shaped bundle of nerves, called the amygdala, sits in our emotional brain. The amygdala becomes very active when we are upset. But when we deliberately label the feeling, the amygdala begins to slow down and “relax.” Also, we engage the thinking part of our brain.

WE CAN LEARN SOME SIMPLE TOOLS There are simple tools we can learn to help us stay aware of feelings and label them. These tools also equip us to let go of feelings safely and appropriately. “Appropriately” means to express them without hurting ourselves or anyone else. Later we will learn where to find those tools.

So we label our painful, angry, and overwhelming feelings. We let go of them and engage the thinking part of our brain. Our mind clears. Now, it’s time for the second question: What do I want?

BAD NEWS – GOOD NEWS When we ask this second question, we should look for personal losses and conflicts. There may be surprises. The bad news is that often, emotions help us avoid knowing things we are not ready to face. The good news is that when we release those emotions in an appropriate fashion, the door usually opens to new understanding. This includes knowing what we really want.

EMOTIONS AND THOUGHTS CAN POISON US Appropriately managing our emotions and thoughts is critical.If we fail to deal with them,they don’t just disappear. They just sit in us. Like bad food we’ve eaten, they poison us until we get them out of us. We can become toxic, confused, and stuck.

Let’s learn to recognize when we have emotional paper bags over our head and get rid of them. Using the two questions can help. You can learn about them in the book, Become the Person You Were Meant to Be – The Choice-Cube Method. The method presented in the book will equip you with a mental framework, simple tools, and four steps to help you deal with all kinds of brown paper bags. You can download the first chapter for free. Just click here.

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