PROVO, Utah — The audience was mostly young adults as Scott Braithwaite, a Brigham Young University professor of psychology, began his BYU Education Week class Friday, Aug. 25, on managing stress.
To Braithwaite, “knowing how to relate to your emotions and knowing what to do when they show up” is emotional intelligence.
People often try to manage their stress through unhealthy coping mechanisms, but, “how you cope determines what comes next,” said Braithwaite.
Watching some TV or taking a break from an issue isn’t always a bad thing, the psychologist noted. It’s when people “stay avoiding” that the real issues start to arise.
He gave some tools that can help manage stress and other negative emotions.
Struggling against emotions
“If we struggle and strain and try not to feel our feelings … they’re going to come up in other ways, and sometimes we’re going to amplify them,” said Braithwaite.
He talked about an idea that might seem counterintuitive but is helpful in getting rid of negative emotions. And the idea?
“Sometimes the best way to not let negative emotions take over is, weirdly, to just let them be negative emotions — to actually let yourself feel the negative emotion for a minute,” he said. “Really intense emotions don’t last forever.”
He continued, “You’ll find that the emotion starts to change, and because we’re not struggling with it, it’s not getting amplified, it’s not getting exaggerated.”
By not struggling with emotions, people are able to have healthy relationships with the emotions they have. When emotions can come and go freely, people can free themselves from being stuck in the negative.
Notice the stories that the mind creates
“We almost always think of emotions as just having one [part]. We think of it as the feeling part,” said Braithwaite. However, emotions have four parts: feelings, sensations, urges and thoughts.
The “thought” part of the emotional experience is the story the brain tells when a situation arises.
“When something happens, your brain starts to try to make sense of it and it tells a story,” he described.
“Part of having a good relationship with our emotions is being able to catch the stories our brain is telling.”
Stepping away from the situation, and the story their brain is telling them, can help a person make better sense of the situation and avoid becoming overwhelmed by the negative emotion.
“It’s important to notice that your thoughts are not always true,” he added. He told the audience to think of their minds to be somewhat different from who they are.
Referring to a scripture from 2 Nephi 2:14, he said “We have two things in all of creation — things that act, and things that are acted upon.”
He argued that the mind is something that is part of a person that can be acted upon, “It just responds reflexively to things. But there is a part of you that can actually observe your mind and notice ‘my mind is being a drama queen.’”
People can make choices about what to do with the stories their mind is creating.
Jesus Christ, forgiveness and relationships
Part of managing emotions is knowing how to solve problems with people in a healthy way.
Sometimes it’s nicer just to ignore problems, Braithwaite said. But avoiding problems in relationships only allows the issue to fester.
“We have to address these, but we want to do it in a way that is kind, and I think a great way to do that is something that Jesus taught,” he said showing a slide with Matthew 18:15: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”
Braithwaite said, “This is such practical advice from Jesus in the New Testament.”
He continued by describing how the Savior was teaching the importance of people talking to each other when problems arise.
“Having a specific conversation about an issue with only the person you have beef with will decrease difficulty and drama by 90%.” Braithwaite emphasized “only.”
Part of getting along with others is learning how to offer them grace, he added.
Sometimes it can be difficult to offer others grace and forgiveness because of hurt they have caused.
But, Braithwaite concluded, “We need that grace, [and] we also need to learn how to give it. It’s one of the most important things that we do.”