I’ve been teaching clients and groups recently about emotional regulation. That’s the fancy phrase for coping with feelings that are uncomfortable to us – anger, sadness, fear, worry, loneliness, anxiety, stress or overwhelm. We naturally try to push the feelings away, distract ourselves with our favorite numbing activities such as alcohol, carbs, shopping, surfing the web/Facebook/TV/Netflix, or even doing things for other people.
One analogy for these distressing feelings is indicator (or WARNING!) lights in a car. For example, the tire pressure light comes on and it tells us, “Something isn’t quite right; have a look at this because there might be a problem.” Another light shows us we are low on fuel, or that our parking brake is still on. Hopefully, you don’t talk to your car and say, “That’s stupid for the car to act this way. I think I’ll have some chocolate because I don’t like that the light came on.” You purchase gas, take off the brake, or have your tire pressure checked. (Or Not.)
Our feelings have information for us –
something needs our attention
What happens when we don’t listen? The same thing that happens when we don’t heed the indicator lights. We run out of gas, get stuck, or something blows up or goes flat. You know. You’ve been there.
Conventional wisdom says “what we resist persists.” The feelings are trying to tell us something, and unless we listen and take action they get LOUDER, more intense, like a tired, hungry 2-year old that wants a snack while you’re on the phone. Then maybe we get headaches or stomach problems or can’t sleep. Our feelings often use our body to get our attention. Because feelings are IMPORTANT. Denying them because they are uncomfortable? That creates problems. Bigger problems.
Over the month of August I’ll blog some additional tips on specific emotions such as anger, fear and depression.
- Remember that overwhelm comes from thinking there is “too much to do & not enough time to do it” or “I can’t do this.”
- Take 3 very deliberate, very deep breaths. (For most people, this resets your nervous system.) You might even choose a coping statement such as “I can handle this” or ask yourself “What do I need right now, in this moment?” Have you eaten, rested, taken care of yourself in some way? Do you need encouragement or support?
- Make a plan. Write down what needs to be done, prioritize and assign a time frame. Using your time management skills usually reduces overwhelm. Reach out for support, have a healthy snack or some water.
- Take action as soon as possible on one or more items in your plan.