It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me and perhaps it’s been a while since you’ve thought about me, but the truth is I think of you all nearly every day. I begin my day motivated to write a blog entry and then by the time Kassidy (now 18 months) goes down for a nap in the afternoon other things suddenly seem more important. But today is the day. We are having quite an intense afternoon thunderstorm here in “sunny” South Florida(for those in California who have never experienced a southeastern summer thunderstorm it includes torrential downpour, flash flooding, thunder so booming my lights rattle and lightening that looks so close I fear we will go up in flames). In other words, it’s a perfect day to write.
In January, I began working at a treatment center treating eating disorders as well as various mental health issues for both adults and adolescents. I lead a variety of groups including yoga, mindfulness, expressive movement & art, process and meal support.
Most of my clients there have attempted suicide or have a loved one who has attempted or died from suicide.
I recently learned that Kate Spade & Anthony Bourdain died as a result of suicide. I don’t know their personal stories, but I do know that, like my clients, they were struggling and hurting so badly that dying felt better than living with emotional pain.
This past year, I too, have experienced a great deal of heartache and emotional pain. I have felt depressed, anxious, lonely, sad, angry, frustrated, jealous, obsessive, shame, guilt, despair and most of all homesick (for a place that I didn’t fully realize how much of a home it had become for me until I left – Pleasanton, CA).
What I am learning about feelings is that the more I feed them with thoughts, the more overwhelming they get and the longer they last. When I feel guilty, then I worry. When I feel worried, then I rationalize. When I feel overly rational and intellectual, then I get frustrated. When I feel frustrated, then I get anxious. When I get anxious….you get the picture right? When we feed our feelings with thoughts, the feelings snowball and become completely overwhelming. I then find myself stuck in a prison of really challenging & difficult emotions accompanied by harmful thoughts that take me further and further down the rabbit hole of negativity.
I recently learned that an emotion (one that isn’t charged and fueled with thoughts) passes in 90 seconds. 90 seconds?!!
I’ve witnessed this statistic in all its glory with my 18 month old. When she is angry because she is not allowed to hang off of the oven door (I know I’m such a strict mom) and I try to fix her feelings, it only makes matters worse. But when I take a deep breath, offer gentle soothing and ultimately allow her to feel the anger, it quickly passes.
Of course, we are not toddlers. But let’s face it, when are really upset, don’t we sometimes throw adult-sized temper tantrums? We may use blame, rationalization or dramatization. We may become passive-aggressive, rigid or resentful. And to make matters worse, our sophisticated brain judges what and how we feel, which only leads to feeling guiltier and more ashamed.
I am learning that there are 3 strategies that work really well for me (when I apply them) to help me cope with my emotions.
3 Strategies for Letting the Feeling Pass:
- Feelings are real, but not necessarily true. I am often told, “Trust Your Gut.” But the truth is, my gut does not always know what’s best for me. In fact, my gut is often riddled with anxiety and fear. These feelings of anxiety, fear and worry, while very real, are not necessarily true. When I let emotions carry me away and guide me as if a true-north compass, I am often led into the “land of overwhelm”. Instead, I am learning that my feelings, while real, are not my only navigation system.
- It’s okay to use distraction, sometimes. Distraction often gets a bad rap and yet the art of distraction can be very helpful for grounding oneself when an emotion is trying to take over. The balancing act, of course, is not allowing the distraction to become a habit, but rather something that helps you ground in the 90 seconds or so that the feeling is trying really hard to sabotage your well-being. I’ve found that reading, listening to audible books and podcasts are incredibly helpful to keep me grounded. When I notice I’m slipping into worry which tends to lead to obsessing, planning and more worry, I really benefit from doing something completely “off topic” from whatever it is I am ruminating on. If it seems extremely really hard to think or do anything else other than focus on your feelings, then that probably means distraction is going to be a really helpful coping skill for you. Again, I’m not saying to use distraction for long periods of time or to allow it to become your only coping skill, but reading a book, watching 20 minutes of tv, or going for a walk will provide you the opportunity to let your emotions pass without an intervention or urgent change (that you will only regret later).
- Acceptance, then action. It’s okay that you’re angry, frustrated, excited, ashamed, sad, worried, etc. It is completely normal to experience a variety of emotions throughout the day. When you judge yourself for feeling a particular way, you only keep yourself stuck in a downward spiral. Instead, practice offering yourself an affirmation “It’s okay that I am feeling (x). I am okay even when I feel (x).” When our only focus becomes accepting how we are feeling, the intensity of the feeling reduces fairly quickly. I have learned that when I experience an urgent need to act, fix, change or manage, it means I am reacting to an uncomfortable feeling by trying to escape, stuff or eliminate it. This knee-jerk reaction usually leaves me back-peddling out of regret, trying to change the change. At other times, I’m left to clean up the emotional aftermath of my intense need to “do something”, which is usually feeling downright lousy. This is not to say that we never take action. Rather, we respond to our emotions with acceptance and once our more intense emotions have passed, we find ourselves with a clearer mind, a more open heart, a quieter body. It is from this space, that we can truly tap into our deep inner knowing, our body’s wisdom. This wisdom is not loud, it is not urgent, it is not overcome with anxiety or fear. It is also not excited or hyper. It is steady and yet flexible (just like our yoga poses – sthira/steady & sukha/ease). Dropping into our body’s wisdom is anything but instant gratification. We get here through practicing awareness and acceptance fully & completely, no skipping ahead. Once we have taken the time needed to ride the natural wave of our emotions, coming down from the crest, then and only then can we take action that is satisfying.
I would absolutely love to hear from you and find out how you’re doing! What tools and techniques help you ground while your emotions are taking you on a surfing extravaganza?
If you are struggling with intense, difficult and overwhelming emotions and you’ve been thinking about reaching out for support – PLEASE DO IT NOW! For crisis line help, Text HOME to 741741 in the US. SUPPORT IS OUT THERE!