Even though the incidents may be a world away, the tragic death of a rescue diver last week in Thailand’s cave rescue case and high-profile suicide cases, including the death of American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain last month, may trigger negative emotions in us.

“Emotions are part of a subjective in-built ‘information’ system within all of us,” says Ms Serene Wong, a senior psychologist at Singapore General Hospital’s (SGH) Department of Psychology. 

They tell us what matters to us so that we can respond effectively, she adds. “Sadness is trying to tell us that we have lost what we hold close to our heart. It helps us to slow down, reflect and nurse our loss.” 

Ms Wong, who will give a talk on understanding one’s emotions this Saturday at SGH, shares three tips on how to handle your emotions.

1. Label them

Ask yourself if a particular “word” or “phrase” fits with what you are experiencing emotionally. If it does not, wait for another word to surface that best describes what you are feeling.

It is important to spend sometime to label the emotions in a non judgmental way to understand what they are trying to tell you. This will help you to regulate them.

“Some of us have the tendency to think about how we feel. We hear people say, ‘I think I am happy’,” says Ms Wong.

“While that is a description of an emotion, it might not be the most accurate. It may be more helpful to describe the emotion as it is the way we feel in the moment.”

That is why slowing down to label your emotions may be helpful, says Ms Wong.

2. Accept them

This sounds difficult as your intuitive response would be to fight, avoid or get rid of a negative experience.

But there are many situations that you cannot control. The more you try to do so, the more frustrated and helpless you may feel. This only adds to your distress.

If you could just observe the experience as it is, you may not be caught up in the frustration and helplessness.

You will still have the negative experience, but you have less distress. This is also a physical sensation which, like all sensations, may eventually fade.

Then, you will be in a better position to manage whatever that contributes to the experience.

Acceptance is a continual process, not an end stage.

“It is like an attitude, a stance we adopt towards our experience, others and ourselves,” says Ms Wong.

“We can take actions to cultivate acceptance, to adopt acceptance, but we cannot ‘do’ acceptance.”

3. Cultivate mindfulness

This is about being kind, gentle, open, accepting and not judgmental about whatever is happening in the moment.

One way to do this is to practise mindfulness formally. Typically, this refers to setting aside some time and being in a place where you can sit and just be aware of your breath. You can also practise mindfulness by attending mindfulness or meditation classes, or listening to a guided meditation.

Another way to practise mindfulness is through informal practice. This involves the intention to bring awareness to a chosen daily activity. For instance, you can choose to be mindful of brushing your teeth or showering, or when you are walking to the bus stop.

The difference is that when you are doing these activities mindfully, you are bringing a more open, nonjudgmental awareness to these activities.