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How feelings of joy and gratitude can co-exist with pain and anxiety

Having conflicting emotions can be overwhelming and confusing.

How can anger and joy, for example, exist in the same space?

It’s a common experience though, to juggle two sets – if not more – of emotion at once.

While it might feel like your brain is messy, it’s a very ‘normal’ thing to experience – and it can tell us more about the nuances and complexities of our lives.

Rarely, things are back and white.

Dora Kamau, a mindfulness meditation teacher for the Headspace app, is keen to spread this message and help people find greater ease in conflicting emotions.

Speaking to, Dora says: ‘Generally speaking, most emotions last for 90 seconds – they come in waves and are transient.

‘One moment we may be experiencing something painful and the next moment, we may be laughing and experiencing a sense of joy.

‘How we can recognise joy is by allowing those feelings to come and go.’

So how to you allow them to do that?

She answers: ‘Giving ourselves full permission to feel how it is we’re feeling in the moment, without attaching a story or identifying with what we’re feeling.

‘What makes emotions last long is rumination, our fixation and overthinking spent on what we’re experiencing in the moment.’

Creating space for positive and negative feelings

The mind has a natural bias towards negative emotions, so we’re able to spot and identify states of pain, anger or grief much easier than we can joy and happiness.

‘This is where mindfulness can be powerful by shining a light on how we’re feeling and helping us to recognise joy amidst the anger,’ Dora adds.

Rather than view a negative emotion as ‘bad’, mindfulness teaches us to allow the emotion in and observe or feel it without judgement.

When we assign labels such as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, we can become stuck.

It’s much easier to embrace moments of gratitude – while also feeling unhappy about an aspect of our lives – when we can step into acceptance, according to Dora.

‘When we allow ourselves something, we’re giving ourselves permission and we’re opening ourselves up to possibility,’ she says.

‘When it comes to allowing ourselves to experience happiness while in a state of upset, we’re giving ourselves the permission to feel what we’re feeling and honouring what we’re feeling as well.

‘When we limit our emotional expression, this can create more resistance and tension in the mind and body, which can actually prolong that state of upset.

‘Regardless of the emotions, it’s important that we allow ourselves to feel and process our emotions.’

We might feel anxious about a situation, for example, but also find pleasure in aspects of it.

The pleasure doesn’t discredit the adversity you’re experiencing, but the anxiety doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to feel moments of joy.

Dora says: ‘It’s okay to let in those feelings that may feel contradictory, but can help us move through heavier and denser emotions.

‘As human beings experiencing many mixed emotions at once is quite normal.’

Tips for allowing conflicting emotions to co-exist:

Establish a routine of meditation and switching off from your phone. Pick the same time or same place when you meditate. You can even book time in your calendar so that people can’t schedule anything over this dedicated period. Start with two to three times a week, for five minutes each time and you can always build on this.

Mindfully walking around your house, garden, or your local area can prevent the mind from being distracted from stressful thoughts by allowing you to focus on the rhythm of the gait, just like a sitting meditation can enable you to focus on the breath.
Self-compassion can also allow us to feel happiness while also feeling sadness. Reminding ourselves that we are worthy and deserving of feeling joy even while upset.

If you find yourself experiencing moments of joy while also grieving, try holding both experiences instead of choosing one or the other. You can validate what you’re experiencing by placing a hand on your heart, taking a few deep breaths and reminding yourself that it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling.

Reference: Metro: Tanyel Mustafa