Thich Nhat Hanh likened emotions to a storm. A storm comes, stays for some time and then it goes. An emotion, too, comes, stays for awhile and then it goes.
When experiencing difficult emotions, Thich Nhat Hanh writes that your head is like the top of a tree in a storm. It is not suggested you stay there. Instead, bring your attention to the trunk of the tree where there is stability, your belly and your breathing for ten or fifteen minutes. (Be Free Where You Are, Thich Nhat Hanh)
I used to be very skeptical of breathing exercises, however I found that paying attention to my breath or just paying attention to my surroundings- what I see or hear, or just focusing on drinking a glass of water or tea can truly help. It can be difficult due to our old habits and patterns that direct us to do what we have always done.
I decided to test this out for one day, trying to be aware of when difficult emotions were present and taking a ten minute break by focusing on my breathing and my surroundings. It was difficult to give it a full ten minutes, and to be honest, in the beginning I could not, but even a few minutes made a difference. After one day I was amazed at how my emotions shifted. I decided to keep at it, and over time my patterns and habits have shifted. I still struggle at times, but I am truly grateful for this tool.
For those that despise breathing exercises or just can’t focus on breathing, the five senses mindfulness exercise might be for you. It is simply stopping and focusing on your five senses one at a time. This too can make a huge difference if you enter it in a couple times a day.