“I feel overwhelmed, so I must be in over my head.”
When we’re stressed, we tend to assume that our feelings reflect reality. This is called emotional reasoning, and it’s very common. We experience a negative emotion, and we take that experience as evidence of some dark truth about ourselves or others. Life’s far from easy, but emotional reasoning leads us to see things as far worse than they really are.
And emotional reasoning isn’t easy to recognize. Strong feelings seem so true—how could they not be? And how can we tell when our feelings don’t represent reality? One trick is to examine our feelings as we experience them.
Let’s say we’re feeling frustrated. Instead of simply concluding that we must have been wronged in some way and doubling down on our frustration, we can step outside of ourselves and notice the feeling of frustration as if we were observing another person. This allows us some perspective on the emotion and a chance to decide whether it reflects reality—or not.
This technique—of pausing to notice our emotions instead of blindly accepting them as fact—figures prominently in several major religions as well as ancient Stoic philosophy, mindfulness meditation, and modern cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s a surprisingly effective way to manage negative emotions and keep our keel a little more even.