There isn’t a day that goes by that doesn’t seem to have some “prison time” built into it. Caught in a traffic gridlock? Prison. Waiting for a service person to deliver or repair something? Prison. Dealing with a demanding supervisor who takes a magnifying glass to your work? Prison warden.

The upside of these daily “jail sentences,” despite their aggravating and stressful effects, is they come and go relatively quickly. We industrious humans quickly forget the irritation these temporary periods of captivity bring, and are quickly on to the next and more pleasant project.

Which brings me to the late Nelson Mandela. It’s likely that many people hadn’t known just how many years the leader of South Africa had spent in prison because of his opposition to Apartheid. His prison sentence was not a temporary disruption of his daily life. Mandela’s captivity was just about as permanent as it could get.

He was held at the facilities of notorious Robben Island, a former leper colony, for 18 years, during which time he became ill with tuberculosis, and was prevented from attending the funerals of both his mother and his son. And, despite the fact that his political party launched an international campaign to free him, the global effort was not enough to set him free. Instead, Mandela was transferred to different prisons.

Mandela’s death is a teaching moment, and can help us become more aware of the prisons we often create inside us.

1. Sadness. If you constantly beat yourself up, don’t speak up, or feel hopeless all the time, then sadness is your prison. This emotion eats at you until all the joy in your life evaporates, and your mind turns against itself.

Solution: Sometimes the best remedy is simply to acknowledge the sadness. Tears — this type of “crying cleanly,” without indulging in self-destructive thoughts — can be very cathartic. Then, your goal can be to identify your unproductive thoughts or behaviors and determine the constructive opposite. For example, if your ideas are ignored at your job, which makes you sad, you can claim personal power by repeating, “My viewpoints are as important as yours.” The result is more effortless communication, in which you state to others what is true for you.

2. Anger. We all know people who have volatile and angry personalities. Even if people don’t necessarily emotionally explode, anger can come out in small but nonetheless destructive ways, such as mean-spirited behavior, inconsiderate and unkind actions, or just exuding negativity or frustration. Anger results in people’s feeling disconnected, separate, and alienated.

Solution: Instead of blaming others for inciting your temper tantrum, take responsibility for your part in the anger scenario. Define what the specific issue is, and ask the role you played in it. For example, let’s say your boss reprimands you for being late to work, and you snap back. It would serve you better to admit you had a late night, knowing you had to be at work the next day, and overslept. Remember that, in any conflict, all parties share equal responsibility.

3. Fear. One of the most common causes of anxiety in our culture is the prison of held-in fear. If you’re facing genuine disaster, your body sends a message to your brain that your survival is at stake. As stress hormones surge, the body normally starts to shake. But many people feel it’s safer to tighten up their bodies, often their jaws and neck, against the fear.

Solution: Although it seems like a parental hug, keep repeating, “It will be all right,” or “It will all work out.” Feeling unsafe is often a result of imagining the worst thing that could happen. For this reason, it’s very helpful to be specific when speaking. For example, let’s say your departmental budget is very low. Instead on broadly dwelling on the catastrophe of what services you might need to cut, focus on and analyze each service in a very systematic way. Paying attention to the details helps decrease the fear-imprisoned person’s tendency to make broad gloom-and-doom pronouncements.

For many of us, prisons are places that serve to punish people — it’s always “other people” —  for crimes they’ve committed. However, there are many individuals whose behaviors and emotions have helped make their lives a continual, unhappy jail cell.

Most fortunately, Nelson Mandela did emerge from his external prison to become one of the foremost and most beloved political leaders in history. We can learn and take courage from his resilience to get rid of our emotional chains for good.