Getting better

Stepping back from your emotions

Getting better

Stepping back from your emotions

Dr Frédéric Benoit, psychiatrist et Catherine Malboeuf Hurtubise, PH. D., psychologist and teacher

Fights with friends, exams at school, misunderstandings with the family… The causes of stress in our youth can come from a variety of sources. To help you better understand your thoughts and feelings and improve the way you handle your relationships, it’s a good idea to learn to step back from your emotions using mindfulness and mentalization.

Using mindfulness to take a break from your thoughts

When negative feelings are whirling around your head like snowflakes in a snow globe, mindfulness can help you take a break and let your thoughts settle, just like the snowflakes do when you stop shaking the globe.

But how can you do that?

When you have negative emotions, it’s often because you’re anxious about the future, or your mind is replaying moments you regret and wish you could do differently. Through mindfulness, you can take a break from your thoughts by focusing on the present moment. This allows you to reconnect with your emotions and the sensations in your body, and also to your surroundings.

Did you know?

Research shows that the more you practice mindfulness, the more lasting and positive its effects are.

How do you practice mindfulness?

To start, look for a quiet place where you can focus for a few minutes. You can start with meditation exercises like this one.

Listen to the podcast below (only available in French for now):

But know that mindfulness can be practiced daily, at almost any time:


  • When you’re talking with a friend and really listening to what they’re saying;
  • When you’re eating a delicious meal and focusing on each bite;
  • When you’re walking down the street and you look around you to observe your surroundings and notice the sensations in your body.

If you don’t have time to stop and meditate, you can still practice mindfulness. It just takes a minute or two several times a day to connect with the present.

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Using mentalization to better manage your relationships

Using mentalization to better manage your relationships

When someone is telling us about something that makes them unhappy, we automatically adopt an expression of sadness and compassion. And without even knowing it, we even lean forward to create emotional contact. This is known as unconscious mentalization.

It’s the capacity for empathy—feeling the emotions of others—that allows us to have an attitude based on mentalization and develop good relationships with the people close to us.

But when you’re angry or overwhelmed by another strong emotion, it becomes much harder to mentalize. That’s when you have to do it consciously. In doing so, you make an effort to understand what is happening in your own mind as well as in the other person’s.

For instance

if you’re having a fight with a friend, you can start by asking yourself these questions:

• What emotions am I feeling?
• What physical sensations is my body feeling?
• Why am I reacting this way?

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After that, you can ask yourself why the other person acted the way they did. And don’t worry: You can think about this on the spot, or later.


When you’re ready to reflect, put on your detective hat and consider the following.

• the other person acted that way because of other problems in their life;
• the other person misunderstood what I said;
• the other person was simply in a bad mood today because they’re tired;
• etc.

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There’s no need to find the answers right away. Simply by asking yourself these questions and using your imagination, you’ll realize that a single situation can be interpreted in a number of ways. This will prevent you from reacting too quickly or intensely and help you manage your relationship more calmly.

Sometimes it’s possible to check with the other person to see if one of your assumptions was accurate. This gives you the opportunity to learn more about others, and it also gives you the chance to learn about yourself and how you manage your relationships.

Adopting an attitude based on mentalization in all areas in your life—even when everything’s going well—will make you more attentive and help you get more out of your relationships (which also means others will get more out of their relationship with you), with the added benefit of seeing other people’s points of view and respecting your differences.

What is the ultimate point of mentalization?

What is the ultimate point of mentalization?

Adopting a mentalizing attitude will help you:

  • Think, rather than act too quickly;
  • Understand yourself better;
  • Show more tolerance and openness;
  • Change your opinions about people and situations, and change other people’s opinions.

In short, you will gain greater self-confidence and feel better when you’re with others.

Need to talk about how you feel?

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