You may not be able to choose your genes or your family. Time may never erase that awful haircut you got in your teens that will be forever remembered and laughed about by your friends. And even posted to Facebook if you’re really lucky (Yeah, thanks for doing that, Emma Barron).

Some things are set in stone (or in photographic evidence) forever, and we have to accept those things with as much grace as we can muster – and move on.

But there are many things that we believe are unchangeable, which simply aren’t. And one of those is our feelings. How can you possibly change how you feel about something, especially if you’re experiencing an especially tough situation?

Why We Believe It’s Hard to Change Our Feelings

In some cases, we may think it’s natural to feel a certain way about a situation, and so it feels ‘wrong’ to change it. For example, shouldn’t we feel sad if something bad happens to a friend? Isn’t it normal to feel angry over injustices?

Additionally, a lot of us think that the way we feel just ‘happens’ to us, and so there is nothing we can do to change it. If we experience a sad event, we may feel that sadness floods through us and there is nothing we can do to stop that tidal wave.

Feelings Are Not What We Think They Are

If you believe that feelings ‘happen’ to us, leaving us completely helpless against changing them, then you are actively deciding to submit to whatever mood takes you over. Because, a feeling is not a part of you, like a limb, meaning that it can be detached without any harm done.

And nor is a feeling an enemy. It has no interest in attacking you personally. A feeling doesn’t have a brain or a manipulative agenda. Therefore, you can disarm it without having to battle it or risk injury.

A feeling is not a fact. It is merely a signal or signpost to you, letting you know that something is up. It may be sometimes be a spur to action or a guideline, but you shouldn’t blindly follow that. It’s often unwise to act on anger, for example, especially on the spur of the moment. Feelings are not necessarily instructions to act.

How Should We Treat Feelings?

Let your feeling be an ‘alert’. Listen to the feeling and understand what it is trying to tell you. It may be obvious, but sometimes you might want to ‘ask’ the feeling what it means. If it’s not clear why you’re feeling a certain way, take a look at what has been happening in your life that day or that week. You may be able to trace the origin of the feeling back by doing that.

If it’s a destructive feeling, try to hold it at arm’s length. You can do this by imagining the feeling is written on a cloud in the sky (remember, it is not a part of you). Naming the feeling can help you hold it at a safe distance.

Next, you’ll want to decide whether you want to change the feeling or not.

Should You Change Your Feelings?

I know we have been conditioned to think that we should feel certain ways about negative things, for example. But, if something bad had happened to your friend, do you think they’d want you wallowing in sadness, or do you think they might prefer you to be compassionate and helpful? It’s hard to help someone if you’re mired in sadness.

Don’t fall prey to convention when deciding what to do about your feelings. Truly consider what would be the most helpful thing to do with your feelings.

I will just add, do not bottle feelings up or suppress them if they need to be felt. That isn’t healthy. But, after you’ve acknowledged and spent some time with your feelings, if you think it would be better to let them go, then you can move on to changing your feelings.

How Can We Change Our Feelings?

There are several methods for changing your feelings, so I’ll give you several tips here.

1. If you’re feeling totally overwhelmed by a feeling, don’t try to zap it away. Instead, bridge your way out of it. So, if you are miserable, don’t try to switch to being elated. Instead, move into a less intense form of the feeling and keep moving across.

My classic trick when feeling sad was to listen to rock music, which was dark, but not as dark as I had been feeling. Then I’d move across to Hip Hop, which again, was edgy, but another step away from misery. I’d basically, go up a level with every track I played, until I was in a reasonable space and free from the overwhelming emotion.

2. There are always at least two ways to look at things – and often many more. The way that you perceive things completely changes how you feel. So you can change your feelings simply by looking at something in a different way.

For example, I was diagnosed with reactive hypoglycaemia, which meant I had to restrict my diet to zero sugar. Forever. I could have been utterly miserable at the thought of a life devoid of cookies and cakes (and especially Bannoffee Pie).

But, then I realised that my ‘enforced’ diet was much healthier, and because it was medically necessary, I couldn’t make excuses or fall off the wagon. I’d never had a healthy relationship with sugar anyway. What was more perfect than a non-fatal illness that required me to stop eating unhealthily to stay well? I’m now happy to be hypoglycaemic and overjoyed that I’m not a slave to sugar anymore.

3. OK, this one is a little more advanced, but one of the most powerful protections against the pain of negative feelings. Make peace with yourself. Many of our more negative feelings are influenced by our inner state. Bad feelings are far less likely to arise in the first place if we have a calm, peaceful mind and soul.

When we are peaceful inside, we are far less likely to feel frustrated or angry, and are more likely to experience joyful feelings. And when negative feelings do arise, they are like ripples on a pond, rather than like tidal waves. We do not dwell or ruminate, which worsens negative emotions, when we feel at peace.

Of course, being able to do this involves a longer road than the first two tips. But it’s also a pretty simple path that has many other benefits. Meditation (just 10 minutes a day if that’s all you can manage) is probably the easiest way.

Many forms of self-improvement and therapies can help you to feel more peaceful inside. But if you want something that is totally free, can be done almost anywhere and anytime, and gives you great results, try meditation. There are some free MP3s you can use here.

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