I woke up this morning feeling heavy. My thoughts racing and yet like molasses at the same time. It was one of those mornings when I just felt like hiding under the covers. I didn‘t want to get up the face the day, face the world, face the news.
This sadness has been building all week, for the past month perhaps.
I feel overwhelmed.
I feel sad.
I feel helpless.
I feel scared.
The violence and hatred is all at a distance, and yet so close. I know that as a highly sensitive person, I feel things deeply. If I’m not careful, I take on the energy around me. And the collective energy feels like a suffocating tarp right now.
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” -Dalai Lama
I know I’m not alone in my feelings and questions. Over the years I’ve figured out some strategies for dealing with emotional overwhelm that I want to share with you today.
- If possible insulate yourself from the source of the overwhelm. For me, right now, this means turning off all forms of news – TV, radio, internet, and social media. It is a constant bombardment that I know zaps my energy and crushes my mood. But some always seeps in, so I have no concern that I’ll become totally out of touch with current events.
- Give yourself extra love and kindness. Whenever you’re suffering, take care of yourself as you would your child or best friend. For me, this is going to be exercise, gentle self-talk, and some down time away from work. A hot bath, reading a favorite book or music might be what feels good to you. Obviously, it’s personal, but be intentional about treating yourself well when you’re under stress.
- Feel your feelings. When our feelings are overwhelming, it’s tempting (even automatic for some) to disconnect from them, stuff them deep inside, and try to numb them. This never works in the long run. Carve out some time to let them come to the surface. A good cry can be very cathartic. So can writing or talking to an attentive listener (not someone who will make it about him/herself). The goal is to feel your feelings, process them, and move forward.
- Take care of your body. I can feel a migraine brewing, so I plan to get some extra rest and drink plenty of water to nurture my body. Stretching out my tight muscles also feels really good. You may find you need to get more sleep and/or more physical activity. And it’s always wise to limit the use of alcohol, caffeine, and unhealthy foods that can ultimately leave us feeling either overstimulated or sluggish.
- Do things to promote a positive, optimistic mood. While I want you to feel your “negative” feelings, it’s not helpful to dwell on them. Don’t spend time around negative people who are going to bring your mood down and focus on problems. Maybe choose a comedy rather than a tragedy for tonight’s movie pick.
- Work for change, if it feels right. Consider whether there’s anything you can do to change what’s overwhelming – even if it’s only in a small way. Somethings are out of our control and it’s helpful to acknowledge that. But other times you may be able to do something to promote change or help yourself or someone else. If there is something you can do, it can be empowering and hopeful to make a small step toward change. You probably can’t single handedly change violence and race relations in this country, but maybe there’s one small thing you can do today that promotes peace.
During any difficult time, I hope you’re able to pay attention to your needs and provide yourself with loving care, for when we care for and love ourselves we can show the same loving kindness to others.
©2016 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Image: Witthaya Phonsawat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net