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When negative emotions overwhelm – 7 suggestions to deal with it

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Emotions are tricksy beasts. Especially the negative ones. They build up until they’re a roiling mess of sobs and anger and UGH lying just under a thin film of ice. At any moment the control can snap, the ice shatter, and everything just cascades out.

Negative emotions are not inherently bad. Sadness can have its place, as can concern and worry. It’s when they layer one on top of each other so you can’t breathe, or when they appear hand in hand with negative self-talk, that the problem starts.

Suggested ways to deal with emotional tsunamis

These are ideas that work for me, or at least can help a little.

One: Write it Out

Maybe because I’m naturally happy writing, but I’ve always written out my emotions. In letters that I don’t send (and some that I do), in diaries, in endless lists and mind maps and jotted notes in planners and bits of refill.

Research shows that writing out your problems and emotions can be just as, if not often more, effective than talking it out. This article explains it well, and this one gives some advice on how to do it. Writing your feelings helps you to structure your thoughts – we naturally think in paragraphs or bullet points when writing. We edit ideas and words and definitions. This earlier post of mine shows the process I often go through. Writing can help me parse my thoughts and reframe my catastrophising.

You don’t need to do regular journalling to benefit from writing out your emotions. To be honest, the most therapeutic benefits I’ve experienced is from simply allowing myself to spill out all the thoughts and fears and demons that sweep down to roost at various times.

Two: Talk With Someone

Although writing can be just as therapeutic in many ways, there’s no doubt for me that talking is important. I think it’s the whole “a burden shared is a burden halved” thing.

Telling someone you trust about your problems, about the emotions threatening to explode out of you or the sneaky ones eating away at your sense of being – that talk can be such a weight lifted off. For me it’s that I’m no longer hiding how I feel. And honesty and openness are, I believe, healing.

Opening up to someone also means you end up with someone else in your corner, someone ready to have your back. And that’s helpful when dealing with either the negative self-talk, or emotions about something you can’t control.

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Three: Look! a Squirrel! Distraction Distraction

Honestly? Sometimes we just need to fill our heads with something light and fluffy and different. Baking shows. Comedians (I love Michael McIntyre for this purpose). Golden Buzzer winners. Puppy pictures.

Chris Evans Laughing. No, really. Evidence below.

Told you it is good.

Four: Exercise and Sleep

I know, sometimes sleep is impossible to achieve when those emotions keep you up in the middle of the night, brain whirling, or worse – tears falling. Routines help here. Doing the same thing every evening at the same time can help train your body into falling to sleep mode.

And this is where exercise helps too. Not just for working out those emotions and getting those sweet endorphins, but for helping you sleep.

Sleep is so incredibly important for resilience. And resilience is what helps us cope with emotional overwhelm in the long run.

I feel hypocritical advocating exercise when I’m possibly at my unfittest, but I also KNOW without a shadow of a doubt that when I’m fit, exercising, I feel better. I have more energy, I have more confidence, I feel more capable.

Exercise can be as simple as a walk, or some stretches, or dancing in your living room (dancing also gives happy vibes so that’s extra bonus points).

Five: Use Logic

So what I mean here is – I catastrophise. It’s easy to do, especially when those emotions are roiling. Logic makes me stop. I think backwards from the horrific end point my catastrophising has filled my brain with and at each step I question ‘how would THIS have happened?’. In the end, I usually prove to myself that whatever overblown fears my brain has cooked up are unlikely to happen.

If it’s a reasonable fear it’s a bit trickier. That’s when I use logic to tell myself things like; ‘It’s 3am. I literally can’t do anything about [Big Problem] now, so thinking about it will have to wait until tomorrow.” I follow that up with a promise to myself with a set time: ‘I will look at this or think about it at 11am tomorrow.” Middle of the night jotted out lists also help me go back to sleep because I’ve tricked my brain into thinking I’ve dealt with it.

This is reminiscent of ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy where you acknowledge the emotion, assess whether it’s useful, and if it isn’t, ‘thanks Brain but that’s not helpful right now.’ It isn’t about denying emotions, or even about solving them, just recognising that they exist but aren’t necessarily helpful. Then choosing a direction to take that is more helpful. Have a read about it here.

Six: Cry

Pretty self explanatory.

Sometimes we need a good cry.

Those emotions that are roiling under the surface? Sometimes we need to let them out in a safe space so they don’t explode at inopportune moments in ways we regret or are embarrassed by.

Stock up on the tissues and let it all out.

Seven: Be Kind To Yourself

This is kind of my go-to advice for most things really. Let yourself feel the emotions. Don’t beat yourself up for having them. Don’t tell yourself you’re weak for having emotions or for not being able to cope with them. That’s human. And feeling intense emotion is not a bad thing. It probably means you have a strong amount of empathy and empathy generally = good.

Don’t be horrible to yourself.

Give yourself time and space to deal.

Have that cupcake if it will help.

Snuggle in the blanket and feel sorry for yourself.

But also be kind enough to look after yourself – do the things that will help you feel better in the long term, not just in the short term.

That brings me to my final point

Bonus: Seek help if it’s really bad

Seeking help from trained professionals (General Practitioners, Counsellors, Psychiatrists, Psychologists) is never shameful. It isn’t weak. Seeking help is about one of the strongest things you can do. And it’s a big part of being kind to yourself.

I hope that some of these can help, and remember – you are not alone. There are others out there on the rising tide of overwhelming emotion as well. Maybe if we help each other out we can build a life raft that takes us to calmer waters.

happiness, inspiration, life, motivation, Personal, self care

Of watering gardens and happiness

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I am not a very good gardener. Often, in the past (okay including the last few months), plants have died from neglect or they’ve struggled for survival in a cocoon of weeds. I don’t mean to kill them, I just forget.

 

A little while ago my parents bought me a lot of beautiful flowers for my garden. Okay, I did manage to kill two of the plants before they went into the garden BUT, my point is – I was very touched by their gift not only of the plants but of their time and encouragement. Together, along with my kids, we got the garden looking pretty for the first time in a long time.

 

Since then, I haven’t killed anything.

 

I get so much pure pleasure from these flowers. Roses, daisies, begonias, geraniums, and some others I’m not yet great on remembering the names of. They greet me when I come home every day and give me so much happiness.

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I’ve been really making an effort during these hot summer days to remember to water the garden and make sure the boys weed it.

 

Tonight, as I stood watering the garden and letting my mind drift (because there’s not a lot else to do) I realised that taking care of my garden is a handy metaphor for taking care of my mental wellbeing full stop.

 

And you know I love a good metaphor!

 

Neglecting our happiness, our mental well-being, is pretty easy to do. We forget to weed out the negative and unhelpful thoughts. We think everything is fine and we can just look after it next weekend, when we have more time.

 

When it gets a bit untidy and overgrown, or things start wilting, we get embarrassed when people come round, or look at it. We feel bad about asking for help because we feel like it’s got that way through our own neglect so we should have to deal with cleaning it up ourselves.

 

But sometimes it’s really hard to do by yourself.

 

Sometimes, when the weeds are everywhere, and the flowers are brittle sticks, you don’t even know where to start. It all feels so very overwhelming. And you’re a rubbish gardener anyway. Why bother?

 

But then maybe you see a little flower blooming through the weeds, pushing its way valiantly to the light. You stop and marvel at it, admire its resilience.

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Maybe you ask for help, and people want to help, and you finally manage to clear it all out and replenish it and it brings you happiness again.

 

As I stood there watering I realised that the only way for me to ensure that not only do my poor little plants survive but that the joy I get from them is ongoing, is by investing time and effort into maintaining it.

 

It doesn’t take that long either – a bit over half an hour maybe to water my flowers. A little bit of time weeding. A bit of effort to remember to spray the roses and check for aphids.

 

And it’s the same with my happiness. Now that I have come through an incredibly difficult year of depression and stress and ill-health, I need to make sure I am putting effort into myself – my health, my wellbeing. I need to make sure I am keeping the weeds away regularly. Part of self-care is practicing positive self talk. I need to water the things that bring me joy – spending time with friends and family, writing, reading, exploring – even when perhaps I feel it’s too hard.

 

The focus on effort is not an accident. Being positive takes a lot of energy and sometimes hard work. Keeping demons at bay requires consistency.

 

It’s worth it for my garden, and it’s worth it for my well-being and my happiness.

 

How will you water your happiness in 2019?

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life, motivation, Personal, self care

Thrive, don’t just Survive

thriveLast year a friend told me his goal was to change his way of thinking from surviving to thriving. He had been inspired by this quote from Maya Angelou:

 

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with passion, compassion, some humour, and some style.

Maya Angelou

 

It really got me thinking. So often I feel as if I just have my head above water, or that I’m juggling so many balls I often feel frozen as they rain down around me and I don’t know which one to take. Other times I don’t feel so on the edge, but I wouldn’t call it thriving either. It’s kind of just being in neutral. Like when you get to the end of the weekend and wonder what you did, or realise that yet another year has passed and so much of it was spent in mundane banalities. I was so struck by it that i found a nice picture of the quote and stuck it above my desk at school. Continue reading “Thrive, don’t just Survive”

life, self care

Resilience – or, bouncing back like Tigger

daisies in concrete

Resilience. The ability to tap into an inner core of strength and keep going. To bounce back. There are a plethora of great quotes on resilience. They centre on the idea of persisting despite failure, of overcoming obstacles through sheer tenacity and willpower, of rising to the challenge.  About choosing to be strong (which, in itself, is an act of strength).

 

This is a really important skill and something I think we’re not really helping our young people develop. I look at the changes in the student cohorts I’ve taught over the last 11 years. There’s been a big shift in their (outward) resilience. I see increased anxiety, apathy, a belief that if you don’t succeed the first time you’re just rubbish at it, a tendency to become overwhelmed at the workload and social pressures. Resilience is needed and I don’t think they’ve been helped to develop it in the system that we provide. Continue reading “Resilience – or, bouncing back like Tigger”