Kindfulness

This easy psychological technique could help you manage difficult emotions

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray
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What is the NAV technique, and how can it help us when we’re feeling emotionally challenged?

Katie Piper is an inspiring activist, talented writer and beloved TV personality, who has always championed the ideals of kindness in everything she does. However, while she wants us to be kinder to those around us, our guest editor also wants us to – as part of Stylist’s Kindfulness Project – start practicing the art of self-compassion, too.

With this in mind, we approached Dr Sarah Jane Arnold – author of The Kindness Coach – in a bid to find out more about the NAV technique, which she describes as an “essential act of self-kindness”.

An essential act of self-kindness involves learning how to respond to ourselves in a constructive way, with kindness and compassion, when we’re feeling emotionally challenged:

1. Naming what we’re feeling

2. Accepting what we’re feeling

3. Validating what we’re feeling

The acronym ‘NAV’ (Name, Accept and Validate) can help you to remember this. Try it the next time you notice yourself feeling strong or challenging emotions. With each emotion, see if you can: 

1. Name your emotion(s) using one word for each emotion you notice

‘I am feeling … [anxious, sad, frustrated, lonely and confused].’

We have all of our feelings for good reason. Different emotions convey different messages about our thoughts, needs and experiences. When we can identify them – and name them – it helps us to acknowledge and affirm our own experience, and begin to identify our needs. Our emotions tell us important information about our internal and external experiences. They facilitate self-awareness, motivate us, prepare us to take action, enable us to protect ourselves, communicate crucial things to others and evoke others to respond to us. They need to be evocative in order to get our attention. 

Woman smiling in glasses

Caique Silva/Unsplash

2. Accept that this exists for you right now

When you’re practising acceptance, you are simply acknowledging that your emotions are real, they exist, and you’re choosing not to fight against them or run from them (because this causes more suffering to arise). You don’t need to like how you’re feeling; acceptance doesn’t mean liking. When we acknowledge what exists – without judging our experience – it protects us from escalating our stress reaction. When we struggle with our emotions, we tend to feel emotions about our emotions, e.g., hopelessness about our sadness.

Of course, accepting our emotions isn’t easy. It goes against our natural instincts to struggle against unpleasant sensations in order to ‘protect’ ourselves from possible harm. Remember, these feelings are not trying to hurt you, and they will pass. You can help your mind to understand that your emotions are not dangerous, in spite of how they might feel, every time you consciously accept their presence. Try to breathe with your feelings, and allow them to be here with you – as best you can. We can learn a great deal about who we are, what our needs are, and what we can do to ease our own suffering once we accept how we’re feeling. 

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3. Validate your feelings

When you’re practising validation, you are taking the time to privately reassure yourself that what you’re feeling is real and important. All of your feelings exist for good reason – even if you don’t understand what’s triggered them just yet. You can validate your experience, nonetheless, by reminding yourself that you’re human and you are allowed to feel this way.

Challenging emotions are normal and natural, for all of us. They’re not a sign of weakness or failure, as society can suggest. Psychological research confirms that naming, accepting and validating these emotions (rather than judging them, and ourselves) reduces their intensity, improves our psychological well-being and protects against mental health difficulties. With regular practice, the NAV technique helps people to tolerate their emotions; it tends to enhance self-awareness, self-compassion and emotional stability, too. It’s a way of turning towards our pain with kindness, rather than battling against it with judgement.

Of course, it’s not always easy. These are deceptively difficult skills to master, and different people find different aspects harder than others. For instance, if you’ve come from a family that didn’t tend to acknowledge your emotions, you might find that it takes a while to get used to naming your emotions. What’s more, acceptance can be really hard because it goes against our natural instincts to accept pain – every fibre of our being wants to fight it, run from it or freeze in it to make it go away because the brain processes it as a warning sign of potential danger. Simply knowing this can help you to practise these skills with more patience and compassion. It’s incredibly valuable once you get the hang of it. Of course, you won’t always remember – or feel able – to use it, and that’s okay, too. It can be enough to hold the intention to try. Practise when you can, and when you want to! 

The Kindness Coach by Dr. Sarah Jane Arnold is out now, and can be yours for £7.99 (Michael O’Mara).

For one day only on Thursday 15 November, Katie Piper has taken over stylist.co.uk as part of The Kindfulness Project, packing the site with articles on what she’s learned about empathy and the importance of self-care.

For similarly inspiring and uplifting content, check out Katie Piper’s Extraordinary People, available on Apple Podcasts now.

Image: Ian Kiragu/Unsplash

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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