Skills to Help When Emotions Run High
With all that is currently happening in the world and the ever changing landscape, it’s normal that we are experiencing uncertainty. It’s also normal for us to experience more intense emotions. When an event impacts us globally it’s like the water level has risen, it doesn’t take as much to get us feeling overwhelmed.
This makes taking care of yourself, your loved ones and your community so vital. Let's be clear, self-care won’t fix anything. It won’t get things back to normal, it won’t make everything better. What it will do is give you the space, strength and stamina to keep going. It will give you the best chance to bring your best forward when it’s needed. It is a key thing that you can control.
Here are some tips to help you care for yourself so you can care for others.
Don’t Ignore Your Emotions
The goal isn’t to drown in them, or fixate on them. It’s to notice them. Emotions are like alarms, and right now we might have a lot of alarms blaring. Knowing what you are feeling helps you determine what to do.
Respond to Your Emotions
It’s hard to know if a feeling is too intense because the situation we are facing keeps changing. Therefore a good starting point is to do something to soothe your feelings. If something is in your control, go ahead and shift it. If the triggers to your feeling are outside your control the first steps to acceptance can be responding to the impact of our emotions.
If you are feeling scared- do something that is comforting or makes you feel safe. Remind yourself of what you are already doing to keep yourself safe and what is being done to protect people.
If you are feeling sad- do something to seek comfort, or bring comfort or joy to others. Remind yourself of what gives you joy and do something that helps you connect with it.
Anger might feel like a tricky one. If you are feeling angry- do something that helps you respond to your anger that fits your values and beliefs. For example I hate bad drivers, and when there is a car tailgating me I get really angry. I could slam on my brakes as a way of dealing with my anger, but guess what? Now I’m a bad driver. Another option is for me to carefully switch lanes, focus on driving the speed limit and giving that person my best dirty look. I don’t ignore my anger but I channel it to behaviors that keep me safe and live out my values.
It’s okay to take a break when things feel overwhelming. Emotions are like waves, they hit a peak and then they mellow out. It’s often harder when we are inundated with information that keeps spiking our emotions. Any activity that takes mental focus and concentration is a good task for distraction.
Take Care of Yourself so You Can Take Care of Others
When we are in the midst of the unknown it can be really helpful for us to take charge of what we do know and can control. We experience emotional, physiological, spiritual and relational health in our bodies and there are a lot of basic ways we can be taking steps to stay healthy. These may seem small but making sure you are getting enough sleep, physical activity and eating regularly is key part in keeping our bodies regulated. Skipping meals or not sleeping well all have an impact on our emotional health and how we relate to others. Caring for these things gives us that extra resource we need to navigate our days.
If you are keeping your basic skills in check here are a few more things that can often help us shore up our internal resources:
Sensory Soothing: We are sensory beings and can be soothed (or distressed) by sensory things. Imagine how you would feel if your kitchen smelled like garbage versus chocolate chip cookies. We can all tolerate the smell of garbage, and can even get used to it. But if we are already feeling stressed that distressing scent may tip us over! Taking small steps to incorporate smells, sounds, tastes and textures that we find soothing can help pull a few straws off the proverbial camel's back.
Seek Beauty: So you may have caught that I missed a sense in the paragraph above. Don’t worry I didn’t! We often forget how moved we are by beauty. This is a great time to reorganize and rearrange your space with an eye for what feels pleasing or soothing. Take time to browse online (or even buy) some of the amazing beautiful artwork that is being created or create some yourself. For some of us a beautiful space is clean, organized and minimal. For others it’s cozy, full of loved treasures and colors. Whatever helps you feel like your space is comforting is the way to go.
Connection: Social Distancing has shifted when and how we connect with others. This is hard because we are social beings. Luckily we live in a time when virtual ways of connecting to friends, family and our communities are possible. It’s also helpful to connect with others around things that aren’t related to COVID-19. Organize a book club, a craft circle, virtual happy hour or play games online as a way to connect with others around enjoyable activities. Go old school and write letters to friends. There is power in doing acts of kindness when life feels out of control. Sending notes or texts to those we care for in our communities can make us feel good and brighten someone else’s day.
These skills won’t make everything easy and they won’t fix things. They aren’t meant to. They are meant to help give you the bandwidth to keep going, to keep moving forward and keep you healthy so you can be a support to those around you. If you continue to struggle with what to do or how to deal with the thoughts and emotions buzzing around your head, reach out for help. There are tons of more specific skills and techniques that help address the emotions stirred up by the unknown. Take time to find some that can work for you.
Sunitha Chandy, Psy.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist Owner of Artesian Collaborative, LLC
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