Difficult emotions are, well, difficult. Especially in the stressful times that we live in now, we are dealing with a lot of different emotions that can sometimes seem overwhelming. We may not have our usual ways of dealing with it available to us anymore.
On top of the physical health crisis, we want to avoid falling into a mental and emotional health crisis. Firstly I will list tips that will help you to deal with difficult emotions that you’re already feeling right now. I’ll then provide advice on how to minimise the triggers to improve your emotional immune system.
Processing emotions that you’re feeling right now
1. Be compassionate to yourself
Don’t judge yourself for having these emotions. It’s okay to be sad, angry, afraid, envious, disillusioned etc.
There are negative connotations attached to emotions. But emotions are just emotions. We can’t control how we feel – we’re human. To feel is what we do. When we deny ourselves of feeling emotion, we deny our humanity. Judging ourselves for feeling something only makes things worse for us.
2. Name the emotion that you’re feeling
Go beyond the basic labels of ‘happy’, ‘sad’, ‘afraid’ or ‘angry’ and be very specific. For example, your anger could be ‘let down’ or ‘disrespected’.
There are a lot of helpful charts on the internet that helps you do this – search for ‘emotion wheel’. It may seem hard at first, but with practice this will get easier.
3. Observe the emotion
By observing the emotion in this way, you separate it from your identity and are less likely to feel overwhelmed by the emotion.
4. Sit with this emotion
Once you have named the emotion and observed it, sit with this emotion. Just feel the emotion, without judging yourself for feeling it. What you resist, persists. We all know from experience that we can’t bury our feelings. If we don’t feel it, it controls us, whether we realise it or not.
Once you’ve experienced the emotion, ask yourself what do you want to do now? How do you want to be? Go do that.
5. If you find yourself becoming anxious or overwhelmed, bring yourself back into the present moment
Much of our anxiety comes from worrying about the future or the past and they are rarely helpful.
6. If you are having trouble doing this on your own, reach out to a trained professional to help
There are many out there providing their support free of charge or at reduced cost in order to help those in need right now.
Minimising unhelpful triggers
In the first part we looked at what to do with the emotions we’re experiencing already. We don’t want to deny our emotional response to things, but that doesn’t mean that we should surround ourselves with people that make us constantly angry or fearful!
Below we’ll look at some practical ways to minimise the ‘negative inputs’ during this period, because no matter how Zen we may be, life will suck if we’re being fed rubbish all the time.
Note that these tips are general. Ask yourself, what is the life you want to create around you. What is the ideal surrounding to create so that you can be mentally and physically equipped to survive and thrive during this time?
1. Limit your media intake
It’s good to be informed but ask how much it helps you and those around you.
2. Spring clean your social media connections
That friend posting discriminatory, ill-informed or damaging information? Conspiracy theorists? Unfollow them.
Instead foster your connection with reliable, trustworthy friends. Share helpful advice and stories about how people are helping each other during this period.
3. Be informed
Follow health advice from trusted global organisations. Make these healthy habits (washing hands, hygiene practices, physical distancing) a habit.
4. Create structures that serve your mental and emotional health
Find a way to keep active. Sleep at a regular time. Eat healthily at regular times. Get enough sleep (I repeat this on purpose).
5. Have routines
There are experts talking of dangers of burnout at home due to decision fatigue. We’re having to make so many decisions that we’ve not had to make before – what’s a responsible and safe way to shop? How much extra food should I buy? What should I be doing in this time?
Know that this will settle eventually and be compassionate to yourself in the meantime.
6. Call up a friend who lifts you up and puts you in a good mood.
7. Focus on what you can control
Many of us feel called to help others during this time. But we can’t help everyone. What are one or two things you do want to do?
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we can start our own kindness pandemic by each of us focusing on two acts of kindness. We don’t need to address every problem by ourselves.
8. Be compassionate to yourself
You don’t need to do that online course. You don’t need to finish that book. You don’t need to be your best self right now. You don’t need to be performing at your best.
9. Get rid of the word ‘should’ or ‘need to’ from your vocabulary
Ask yourself what you want, when you’re your wisest and best self.
(E.g. Yes, I want to go to the gym, but I want more to keep everyone safe including my friends who are asthmatic and the most vulnerable in society. So I’ll take a short walk around Independence Monument when it’s not busy and do air squats at night.)
In short, be kind to yourself. Be human and experience these emotions. Surround yourself with things and people you need (virtually). Trust yourself to know what you need, when you take the time to ask yourself. Listen to your body.
Get sufficient sleep, food and water.