How To Ride an Emotional Roller Coaster Without Getting Sick

How To Ride an Emotional Roller Coaster Without Getting Sick

Man, it’s been a hell of a weekend.

For me, the weekend started Thursday afternoon, when the first videos of Jensen Ackles as Bacchus LI arriving in New Orleans started to pop up on Twitter and Facebook. Friday was Jensen’s 41st birthday, and he spent it at the Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, visiting patients, families, and staff. In addition to all the CHNOLA videos, my Twitter timeline was filled with birthday wishes for Jensen, many of which included photos and GIFs of that gorgeous man I love so much. Every picture, GIF, and video I saw made me feel joy and pride for that amazing man. It was such an amazing day, and it turned out that the weekend would only get better from there!

Long story short, I spent all of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (March 1-3) getting amazing new Jensen content every five minutes or so on Twitter and Facebook, to the point that I described my Twitter timeline to my coworkers as “concentrated happiness.” I mean, look at this guy:

Jensen Ackles as King Bacchus LI, full-body shot
*swoons*

His joy is infectious, no?

But then.

On Monday morning, great Jensen content was still trickling onto my Twitter and Facebook feeds when the news came that Luke Perry had died. Now, I was only 7 years old when Beverly Hills, 90210 premiered in 1990, so I came to the show much later through the Again With This: Beverly Hills 90210 podcast. I had never seen the show before the podcast began in 2015, but I listened to the first episode because I liked the hosts, Tara Ariano and Sarah D. Bunting, so much from their other projects. I ended up “acquiring” seasons 1-6 of “the Bev-Niner” and binge-watching them over a couple of weeks in summer 2016. I listened to the podcast religiously up until a few months ago, when they got into seasons 8 and 9, which I just wasn’t interested in hearing about. But I have listened to some of the podcast episodes for seasons 1-6 upwards of ten times each.

So, needless to say, I’m very familiar with BH90210 and, of course, Luke Perry was an integral member of the original cast. The show was never the same once he left in the middle of season 6, and I have yet to get on Hulu to watch his return in seasons 9 and 10. I know that Dylan (and, by extension, Luke) was incredibly popular during the show’s heyday, and this article by Jessica Morgan 1Jessica once pitched an episode of BH90210 for the television Canon on AWT90210’s sister podcast, Extra Hot Great, which is also hosted by Tara Ariano and Sarah D. Bunting as well as Tara’s husband, Dave Cole. You can listen to that episode on Previously.TV. of Go Fug Yourself discusses why Dylan/Luke held such appeal for ‘90s teens. I mean, he wasn’t my childhood crush or anything 2although I do know a thing or two about childhood crushes dying tragically, but he was, from all accounts, a genuinely good guy and a well-loved mentor to the young cast members on Riverdale, and to lose him this young…it hurts. A lot.

And, just to bring my weekend full circle, Luke Perry was Bacchus XXXII.

Luke Perry as Bacchus XXXII in 2000
The King is dead. Long live the King.

So let’s just say that Monday (March 4) was a real emotional roller coaster for me. My Twitter and Facebook feeds would whipsaw from happy, goofy pictures and videos of King Jensen to somber eulogies and retrospectives of Luke Perry. TVTropes calls it Mood Whiplash.

So, what do you do when your emotions are hurtling from peaks of joy to valleys of despair on a minute-to-minute basis?

Well, most experts agree that you need to actually feel your feelings. According to Jill Bolte Taylor, a biological instance of emotion lasts for only 90 seconds. Emotions that seem to persist longer than 90 seconds are actually conscious recollections–i.e., your brain is looping them over and over due to what Russ Harris calls the “struggle switch.” In his book The Happiness Trap, he writes:

Well, imagine that at the back of your mind is a switch—we’ll call it the “struggle switch.” When it’s switched on, it means we’re going to struggle against any physical or emotional pain that comes our way; whatever discomfort we experience, we’ll see it as a problem and try hard to get rid of it or avoid it. … With our struggle switch ON, we are completely unwilling to accept the presence of these uncomfortable feelings, which means not only do we get distressed by them, we also do whatever we can to avoid or get rid of them.

The harder we try to avoid feeling emotions we consider negative (such as anxiety, anger, sorrow, or fear), the more pain and suffering we end up feeling in addition to the original unpleasant feeling. With the “struggle switch” turned off, the original unpleasant feeling peaks and dissipates in 90 seconds, and if it reoccurs, we simply let it happen–without expending time and energy trying to fight it and thereby amplifying it. Typical avoidance and control strategies that most of us use involve turning to addictive substances or behaviors, like alcohol, drugs, overeating, shopping, and TV or video games, all of which can blossom into full-blown addictions that have the potential to ruin your relationships, health, finances, and more.

So, how do we feel our emotions without running away from them or struggling against them?

The Happiness Trap describes a mindfulness technique called “expansion” that aims to allow us to observe our emotions instead of thinking about them. When practicing expansion, we focus on the bodily sensations that our emotion is causing and try to remain with those sensations without getting carried away by the thoughts and stories our mind supplies about the emotion. If thoughts and negative stories arise, simply allow them to pass by and return to the body.

The hard part is not getting “hooked” into the thoughts and stories. I’m not gonna lie–I don’t always have much luck with this, either. It takes a lot of practice to master any mindfulness technique, including this one. But give it a try the next time you find yourself on an emotional roller coaster.

And you can practice on positive emotions too! In fact, it’s really smart to practice on positive emotions because the thoughts and stories that arise will be less distressing in the moment. Still, you want to avoid getting hooked into those thoughts, even if they’re good ones.

Give expansion a try and let me know how it goes!

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