At times in our lives, when things are very difficult, or sometimes, after they have been very difficult and the dust begins to settle, strong feelings can well up. Sometimes it seems these feelings will take over, and can leave a person finding it difficult to function. These might be feelings of anger, sadness, jealousy, rage, anxiety, fear or panic. These feelings can be a frightening experience in themselves and it can be difficult to see them in perspective.
If this happens to you, there are many things you can do to help yourself, some of which I’ll deal with here.
The first thing is to remember that everything changes over time. Feelings pass, even feelings that persist for some time are not at the same level of intensity during all of that time. Remaining calm and remembering that they will pass, will help the feelings to pass.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Eat well and get adequate rest (even if you can’t sleep). Relaxation or meditation may help. If you have work to do or to go to, then do so. Maintain some social contact with family and friends. Looking outside ourselves for even a short time can help to give us a different perspective on ourselves, and it can help to talk.
Take some exercise even though you might not feel like it. Exercise changes the energy in our bodies, and a change of scenery can do wonders for how you feel. Walking briskly, or running, are ideal. Feel your feet on the ground as you move and concentrate on your surroundings. If the feelings are of anger or rage, consider some exercise that involves hitting something (such as tennis or squash). If you can say out loud what you’re feeling as you hit, so much the better.
Help to ground yourself by breathing deeply into the feeling. Try and become aware of where the feeling seems to be located in your body, and if you can reach, put your hands on that place as you breathe. At the same time, feel your feet in your shoes or socks, and feel your shoes on the ground. If you feel light headed or disoriented, remind yourself of the day, date and time.
Try not to blame others for your thoughts or feelings. What we think and feel is our own response to a current or past situation. Other people cannot make us feel or think anything.
There can be three voices or directions within us at any time, and it’s useful to distinguish between them:
The child (wanting to act out of the feelings, and blame others),
The parent (concerned with shoulds and oughts), and
The adult (able to see more than one perspective, responsible for self).
While it is important to acknowledge the child and the parent, we have the ability to respond to any situation or feeling out of the adult place.
It can be helpful to use a journal or art materials to express thoughts and feelings.
If difficult thoughts and feelings persist, then consider getting some professional help. Remember that we are always more than our struggles, although we may forget this when immersed in them, so might need to remind ourselves.
Jude Fay is a counsellor and psychotherapist at AnneLeigh Counselling and Psychotherapy, Celbridge and Naas, Co Kildare, Ireland