This month seems to be centered around emotional intensity, perhaps because I’ve been working on it with several clients recently as well as noticing how much I’m personally impacted by strong emotions. I think of myself as very easy going and unperturbed by life, but that’s not actually the way I experience life.
For example, it may take me 45 minutes or more to craft an email to someone because I feel I must hit the right tone. It’s my own strong emotions that are driving me to write and rewrite a simple message that the person will read without any idea how long I agonized to craft it.
Recently, too, my parents have both been in and out of the hospital. I live quite a distance from them, so I’m not there to be with them. Perhaps that distance and having to get information second-hand from my sisters adds to the emotional impact for me, but I can be thrown off center just by knowing they’re not well. Yes, I know that most people will be impacted if a loved one is ill, but this seems more impactful. I can’t think clearly, and I can’t function.
Some of this may be a type of rumination where I’m giving attention to a negative picture to the extent that my amygdala thinks it’s a real situation and pops me into fight, flight, or in this case, collapse. A person can’t function effectively in any of those states. It’s difficult, though, to calm the amygdala back down so we can begin to function well again.
So, what can we do when our emotions are so strong that they’ve shut us down? First, we must notice our situation without judging or punishing ourselves. We can appreciate the strength of our caring and just how much stress our powerful emotions cause us. Then we can explore what we can do to soothe ourselves and help tell our amygdala that we are safe. If we like tactile things, perhaps a weighted blanket or soft sweater can help. Sometimes, gently caressing our own arms can be really soothing. For others, it’s taking a walk outside or finding a very peaceful place where we can spend some time unwinding. Other times, it’s doing something repetitive or creatively engaging.
For me, I sometimes need to talk with a friend and process a bit. And I find that talking calmly to myself about the situation can help me, too. We have stronger emotions to manage than the average person, and it’s important to understand that and find what can soothe us in the moment so we can continue to function.