Can you recall the last time you felt angst, agitation, anger, or another "hot button" reaction to someone or something? By hot button, I mean a feeling that causes a strong physical and emotional response.
My hot button feeling is that of being overwhelmed. I get panicky and feel like the walls are caving in. My shoulders tense up and my gut clenches. I also get agitated and my thinking becomes unclear. Can you relate?
I recently worked with a client whose hot button was the feeling of urgency. This feeling brought up in her a strong need to accomplish a task immediately—no matter how small or involved. She senses the stress of urgency in her jaw and her anxiety skyrockets.
Hot buttons feelings are charged with layers of intensely deep rooted beliefs about ourselves, many of which were formed in our younger years and stem from unrealistic expectations. For example, I feel overwhelmed when I have a lot of work to accomplish in a short period of time.
In reality, the work itself is neutral. The tasks themselves are inanimate after all, right? The feeling of overwhelm is actually coming from my beliefs that I must be perfect and not disappoint others. Because I am afraid of failing or letting others down, overwhelm is a highly charged feeling that can snowball into anxiety and other stress responses if I don't defuse or lessen the charge.
To defuse or lessen the charge of an emotion or feeling, I have adopted a mindfulness technique. The intention is to redirect the hot button feeling to a more positive one.
The steps are simple. The hard part is catching ourselves while we are experiencing the feeling. Often, hot button feelings snowball and our habitual rituals or patterns of reaction go on autopilot. This practice trains us to catch the charged feeling before it is amplified, morphs into another charged feeling or behavior, or is repressed and absorbed in our bodies, causing ill health.
Give this mindfulness practice a try the next time your hot button feeling is triggered. You can do it anywhere and at anytime. Follow these six simple steps:
1. Notice the charged feeling as it is happening.
2. Identify where you sense the feeling in your body.
3. Take 3 to 5 deep breaths to calm the feeling, and continue breathing deeply to clear out the feeling.
4. Say to yourself a word or phrase or a favorite mantra to redirect the feeling to a positive one.
5. Repeat the words until you sense the stress in your body retract.
6. Smile, continue with your day, and repeat this practice as many times as needed.
It is important to understand that this is a practice of repetition, meaning doing it once will not cure you of ever having that charged feeling again. Rather, it generates awareness and helps you develop the skills to defuse it—the greatest skill being redirecting negative energy to positive energy.
We get to know ourselves better when we recognize our reactions and actively choose an alternate response. If the energy that drives our lives is reactionary, we are out of control and ripe for hot buttons to be everywhere. If we can tune into ourselves and intentionally redirect our energy to land on a positive mantra or other calming forces, we then live from intention rather than reaction.