How to Deal With Difficult Emotions - So You Can Sleep Better at Night

Dec 23, 2020

Difficult Emotions and Sleep

You hear me say it over and over, (but I’ll say it again for good measure…)

What we do during the day affects how well we sleep at night!

It’s natural to think of sleep as strictly a nighttime activity (it does occur at night, after all). But sleep is actually a 24/7 process. The day and the night are intimately connected. In fact, what happens at night is an extension of what happens during the day.

Life throws some serious curveballs that's for dang sure. Family… relationships… work… they all present unique challenges and accompanying emotions.

The way we deal with our emotions, particularly difficult emotions, is important because it impacts the regulation of our stress response.

In previous blogs, I discuss hyperarousal and hypervigilance, both of which can occur when the brain is stuck in “fight or flight.” (Good sleep is nearly impossible when we’re in a state of high alert.) However, learning how to handle difficult emotions helps regulate the stress response and gets us “unstuck” from ongoing fight-flight-freeze patterns.

In this blog, I talk about difficult emotions, why they’re not necessarily the reality, and how you can process them so your brain is free to sleep peacefully at night.

Emotions Aren’t Necessarily the Reality

When we experience emotions, especially difficult emotions, we assume that what we’re experiencing is the reality. What we’re experiencing, however, is simply OUR reality, or our perception of reality.

Two people can experience the exact same event yet walk away with completely different perceptions of the event. The subconscious creates the lens through which we interpret the world.

Emotions are just messages, or signals from the unconscious brain. They’re patterns of information that result from all of our past experiences.

It’s our unique perceptions and beliefs about our emotions that determine how they play out in our lives.

Why You Can’t Always Trust Emotions

The unconscious brain is emotional and primitive - it’s the part of us that seeks pleasure and avoids pain. And it does this in whatever way presents the least resistance.

On top of that, we have beliefs about emotions.

People often judge emotions as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ ‘Negative’ or ‘positive.’ Happiness is good, while anger is bad.

But the truth is, emotions are neither good nor bad. They’re just… human. It’s the meaning we assign to them that informs how we bring them to life.

Emotions, whether pleasant or unpleasant are adaptive and useful because they provide insight into what’s going on within us and around us.

Let me give you an example:

I was recently scheduled to give a big presentation in a new setting on a platform I was unfamiliar with. I had a bunch of fears about this presentation.

Those fears got louder and louder until I could feel them pulling me in directions I didn't want to go (totally stressed, taking it out on people I care about, feeling tense and insecure).

Was fear a bad thing in this scenario?
Maybe. Depends on how you look at it.

I was going through what we all go through when we push through unconscious patterns – resistance. I really, really didn’t want to give this presentation. I mean, I would’ve eaten something off Survivor if it meant not doing it 🐜 🤮  


My mind wanted me to say, “just forget it.”

But there was also a part of me that knew, deep down inside, that I had to do it. Because when I feel that kind of fear, I know it’s time to expand, not contract. Not doing it would have strengthened that network of fear and underneath all the resistance, I knew it was a great opportunity.

So, my perception of fear has changed over the years. Sometimes fear is a friend instead of an enemy. When I feel a certain kind of fear, I know I’m going in the exact right direction and I've learned to lean into it instead of away from it.

When we’re grappling with difficult emotions, we can decide how we want to perceive them and what we want to believe about them. This is important because what we feel about something determines how we act on it.

What We Focus on We Create More of

What you focus on you create more of in your life.

Your focus creates your reality.

When I was working on my presentation, I had to shift my focus away from “this bites and I don’t know why on earth I agreed to it” to “I’m really lucky to have this incredible opportunity.”

My mind played out all the things that could go wrong. So, I redirected it towards everything that could go right. (Plus, I got a few coaching sessions because I knew I needed them.)

Creating a focus and working towards it even when your brain is giving you reasons not to (because it totally will) is the ultimate in mastering your mind.  

You Are the Sky

"You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather." - Pema Chodron

I adore this quote by Pema Chodron. I think it’s a wonderful metaphor for ourselves and our emotions.

Your emotions are like the weather (storms, wind, rain). And like the weather, they are temporary. They don’t own you or define you, unless you let them.

Because you, my dear, you are the SKY. There is nothing that can change that. No matter what is going on around you, you will always be the sky.

The sky is your inner self; the weather is everything else (thoughts, emotions, etc.).

And within that sky is your focus.

You get to decide how you want to work with these emotions and evolve through them.

Neutralize the Emotions

Difficult emotions can sink you if you allow them in for too long.

In his book, How God Changes Your Brain, Andrew Newberg, MD says:

“If you allow anger and fear to dominate, you will lose the neurological ability to think logically and act compassionately toward others. In fact, it is nearly impossible to find peace and serenity if your mind is preoccupied by negative, anxious, or hateful thoughts.”

When I was preparing for my presentation, I could feel fear, worry, and anxiety pulling me in unhelpful directions.

But I also understood the value of those emotions. They were like little clues showing me the areas I needed to work on in order to grow.

The more you resist an emotion, or try to push it away, the more it persists. 

One of the ways you can neutralize an emotion is to simply name it. Acknowledge what you are feeling. Just by not resisting an emotion, you start shifting it into a different place.

Me: “I’m feeling scared, anxious, and a little freaked out about this presentation.”

Labeling emotions takes the charge out of them and reminds us that we’re greater than what we feel in any given moment.

Then, simply listen to what the emotional data is trying to tell you. What is the message?

Me: “I’m afraid I’m going to fail at this presentation.”

I was terrified of failing.

We Get to Choose

I was super scared of failing 😬  But here was a chance to reframe failure - to choose a different reality. So, here are some of the questions I asked myself:

  • Is failure really THAT horrible?
  • What bad things would happen if I fail?
  • When did I fail in the past?
  • Is it possible all those failures were actually gifts?
  • Could it be that failure is actually one of life’s greatest teachers?
  • Am I still lovable even if I fail?
  • What constitutes failure, anyway?


Reflecting on Pema Chodron’s quote… The sun can be good OR bad. The storms... helpful or unhelpful. It’s always a matter of perception. And that is how the sky gets to create its reality.

Choose how you want to feel and then step into that feeling. Get into the feeling now and become empowered. All those little soldiers from the past may pop up and talk you out of feeling what you want to feel. That's okay, because you can let them go. 

Let it Go

Once you’ve named the emotion, chosen what you want to believe about it, stepped in to how you want to feel, go ahead and let the rest go. Give yourself permission to let go of the need to control your emotions.

Tapping is a wonderful tool for letting go and retraining the brain. (Learn how to tap here.)

I went forward with my presentation and even had some FUN! It was a great opportunity and I connected with some pretty cool people.

Was it perfect? Nope, not even close. But that was the whole point! Ya' gotta crawl before you can run. 

In Closing

Difficult emotions can tell us a lot about ourselves if we look at them with curiosity. Instead of resisting them, give yourself some space to learn from them. What is the message? What are they trying to tell you? 

Remember, the body speaks your mind.


So, the next time you find yourself dealing with some difficult emotions, go ahead and try these simple steps:


👉🏽   Neutralize them by naming them.

👉🏽   Choose what you want to believe and how you want to feel.

👉🏽   Step into that feeling and let the rest go.

You, my friend, are not the cloud, the rain, or the storm. You are the sky.


Holding space for all of the emotions, 

Beth Kendall MA, FNTP

Holistic Sleep Coach

Health Disclaimer: The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.


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