How to Relax Emotionally

I recently posted on about some ways to take control of your emotions using Tai Chi philosophy.  In this post, I wanted to flesh out one of the most important steps – emotional acceptance.

We’ve made a lot of posts about physical and mental rest, but so far have neglected to talk about another important form of rest – emotional rest.  This might seem like a strange concept to some – how can we relax our emotions?

For the most part, we have very little control over our emotions.  The part of our brain most responsible for emotions (the amygdala) is located in the very center of our brain – the part that even lizards have evolved.  The part of our brain which is responsible for conscious decision making (the prefrontal cortex) is located behind our forehead.  There are hundreds of thousands of connections running from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortext, but only a handful running in the opposite direction.*

What does this mean?  That our emotions, for the most part, are running the show.  So how can we rest something which we have so little control over?  I like to explain using a quote from the famous mindfulness teacher / psychologist Jon Kabat-Zinn: “You can’t control the waves, but you can learn how to surf.”


What does it mean to learn how to surf?  When we experience emotions, they tend to multiply on themselves.  For example, let’s say you’re driving in your car and you just miss the green light and get stuck at a red.  This annoys you.  Then you think to yourself ‘This is stupid, why am I getting angry about something so small?’  Now you’re angry at yourself for being angry.

When you surf, you can’t resist the flow of the waves.  If you try to resist, you’ll end up underwater.  The same is true with emotions.  If you resist your emotions and try to fight them, they will consume you.  If instead you accept your emotions, then they lose their grip over you, and you can glide along their surface.

The key is acceptance; another quote I like from famous grief expert Elizabeth Kübler-Ross goes like this: “I’m not OK, you’re not OK, and that’s OK.”  Once we realize it’s perfectly normal and OK to be feeling whatever it is that we’re feeling in this moment, we’ve accepted it.  Only upon accepting an emotion can we move beyond it.  If you can’t accept the emotion, accept your unacceptance.  If you can’t accept your unacceptance, accept the fact that you can’t accept your unacceptance.

Accept.  Embrace.  Surrender.  Yield.  It works the same way in Taijiquan.  If you try to fight hard with hard, you’ll end up with broken bones.  But if you use soft to defeat the hard, you can use your opponent’s power against them.

Do you ever take time to rest your emotions?  Next time you notice yourself in an emotional state which you don’t want to be in, give acceptance a try and let us know how it goes!

*Source – Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys To Transforming the Way We Work and Live

About Eric

I'm a positive psychology nerd and I help develop the Daily Zen content for the Online Academy. I'm also an aspiring actor in China, and spend my free time getting beat up by the good guys in movies and TV shows.

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