COVID19- Living in the Long Haul (Part 2)
Our last blog focused on ways to reassess our situations as we close in on a full year of living within the constraints of a global pandemic. Setting a routine, connecting with social networks, and finding room for difficult emotions are all key components of setting up a healthy space- mentally and physically. This blog dives deeper into what it means to feel difficult feelings and how to move through those hard feelings in a safe and effective way.
Have you heard the term before? Emotional regulation is a therapy term for the ability a person has to manage and process emotions. Everyone has different levels of emotional regulation, but we all have an area where we are in a good place, also known as a window of tolerance. This window of tolerance is where we feel calm, safe, and able to handle what life throws at us. When we leave this middle ground, we jump up into what is called hyperarousal, or we fall down into hypoarousal.
Emotions like anger, panic, fear, and pain push us up into feeling overwhelmed, or hyper aroused. Sometimes you can feel a lot of energy or it may manifest in needing to move or do tasks.
Emotions like sadness, loneliness, or desperation push us down into shut-down mode, or hypoarousal. This is when you find yourself just zoning out, unable to complete tasks, or feeling listless or depressed.
Don’t Fight It
As mentioned in the last blog, the first step to dealing with emotions (or hyper/ hypo-arousal) is to simply feel it. When you feel the lump in your throat begin to rise, or that sick feeling in your stomach, let it come. Fight your desire to push the pain or fear away. Is it panic? Is it sadness? Is it grief? Whatever the emotion is, let it overtake you and acknowledge the feeling out loud.
Next, be kind. Tell yourself it’s okay. Your feelings are real and they are valid- even if you think you SHOULD be feeling something else. Don’t let the outside world dictate what emotions you can and cannot experience.
We want to resist emotions because they can cause pain- real, physical, biological effects. Once you lean into the pain, you have to help your body out by finding ways to get your nervous system back to its window of tolerance. It’s time to regulate those emotions!
Think about ways that have helped you feel calm during tough times in the past. Does breathing help slow your heart rate? Does going on a quick walk clear your head? Maybe releasing some big sighs calm you down. Each of these are physical ways of regulating your emotions- they are releasing stress hormones from your body. You could try any type of movement to find this release- everyone is different and everyone has different ways to regulate.
If a physical release isn’t working, get your brain involved. Can you write an angry journal entry right now? Would talking to yourself calmly and out loud ease your mind? Would calling a friend bring your peace?
While this process may seem like a simple two-step journey, we all know it is not that easy. Emotional regulation takes work and trying new ways to deal with your feelings. Raising your awareness is a great first step to finding new ways to manage your feelings- be aware of when you are pushing a feeling away and see what may follow.
Are you interested in connecting with a counselor or therapist to start working on your emotional healing? We have several professionals on staff at Georgetown Counseling & Wellness who would love to connect with you.