Mixed feelings – our new curious companion 

 

Positive Psychology Coach and RB Mind Trustee, Monika Waller, examines how developing an awareness of our conflicting emotions can strengthen and uplift us.  

We live in unprecedented times and so many of us have been noticing mixed emotions during this summer full of new rules and changing restrictions. Is it natural not to have just positive or negative feelings? Mixed emotions can often be a useful strategy in coping with difficult life events such as Covid-19 and various consequences like regional lockdowns.  

The ability to experience negative emotions alongside positive ones enables us to find something positive in stressful circumstances. Accepting conflicting feelings is important and it means we use a wider range of information available to us. Individuals who recognise conflicting aspects of the human existence are typically mature and emotionally intelligent.  

 

Combining the positive and the negative 

Allowing ourselves to express our authentic emotions can be beneficial for our wellbeing and will enhance our self-awareness. In tough situations as well as times of uncertainty let’s identify our true feelings rather than settle for what we ‘should’ feel. When we notice any mixed feelings it’s good to pause and reflect. By taking a close look at internal dilemmas it’s not uncommon then to realise one or all of the following: 

  • We feel discomfort but are able to tolerate it better

  • We acknowledge our fear but find the courage to adopt a more pro-social attitude 

  • We have more self-control 

  • We become more thoughtful and don’t act in haste 

Research shows that mixed feelings combine what is beneficial in the positive and negative emotions. Negative feelings promote analytical thinking and positive feelings promote flexibility and creativity.  

 

Emotions during Covid-19 

Emotions carry important information and should not be ignored. However, they are not the only guide in life we can rely on. Emotions tell us more about our expectations of the world rather than the world itself. We are all unique and each of us has built an extensive repertoire of memories, assumptions, biases and core beliefs in our brain. Sometimes it will be wise to question why we feel the way we feel. What experiences do we draw upon to explain how we feel? Are we for some reason hopeful or do we have grounds to feel helpless? Here are a few simplified examples of emotions during Covid-19 based on differences in experience or expectations:

  • Someone who always goes to Spain on holidays in September may feel anxious about the upcoming trip and will feel very disappointed if the flights get cancelled 

  • Someone who has given up on their holidays abroad and instead used the money to refurbish the kitchen may feel excited and joyful 

  • Someone who has lost a job in a travel industry may feel so sad and really worried about the future 

  • Someone who has been made redundant but now plans to enrol with Open University to get a degree may feel curious and optimistic 

  • Someone who has received support and kindness from neighbours feels grateful and safe 

Is our perception the unbiased view of the world? What we see and what we know creates this perception. And there are some limitations here. In general, as visual information available to us is not always enough, our brain needs to fill in the gaps by using prior knowledge, memories, and occasionally a big guess to help us understand what is going on around us. Are too many question marks likely to make us unsettled? Yes. The dislike for uncertainty is something we all have in common. Over time our human brain has evolved to seek certainty in order to improve our chances of survival.  

 

Living with ambiguity 

The pandemic has disrupted our routines and brought constant changes. Some coping strategies we used to rely on might not be so effective nowadays. It’s time to try out new ways and learn how to live with ambiguity. 

  1. Don’t believe everything you think. Considering the worst-case scenario might be helpful so that you can try to manage risks better. But when you actually believe these thoughts, you react very emotionally and as though the worst case is already happening right here and right now, rather than just in your head. This all makes you feel afraid, unsafe and overwhelmed when you are alone with such thoughts.   

  2. Learn to stay present. Even when everything seems out of control, you can still control what you pay attention to. By dropping negative fantasies, you can navigate the moment with more clarity and sensitivity. Take a few breaths to calm your busy mind. Listen to the sounds around you, pick a pleasant focus point in your surroundings. Let go of your ruminations. 

  3. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself just like you would treat a dear friend, with respect and warmth and patience.  

  4. Notice things to be grateful for. Has anything enriched your day in some way? Maybe it was an uplifting scent of your shower gel or a smooth bus journey. Start a Gratitude Journal and note down 3-5 little wonders you are thankful for in your daily life.  

  5. Find connection with others. We are all interconnected and we value being part of a community. 

In the near future, we may get happy-sad as we try to make predictions about the next phase or when we recall details about the past few months. It’s up to us individually to decide if we wish to nurture our dissatisfaction or to drop sometimes our complaints and instead allow everyday good fortunes to inspire us. Mixed emotions will be a curious companion going forward. Being aware of our internal dilemmas could motivate us to form a plan of action and explore new opportunities. Everything we do has potentially the power to strengthen us and uplift us.