How do you deal with an emotional setback that causes your mind to race and leaves you frantic and restless? If you are surrounded by people you may focus all your effort on maintaining your composure. Once by yourself you may feel relief you managed to stay calm yet you are acutely aware of the storm still raging storm within you with no way of knowing how to settle down. You admonish yourself calm down so you can finally start thinking clearly and feeling ashamed or embarrassed for being rattled.
Awareness in the Moment
If you are aware of any of this going on inside you, it’s a good start. There is a natural tendency to shy away from unpleasant thoughts and feelings while immediately redirecting our attention to restoring our balance. We expect of ourselves to calm down immediately, make rational decisions and move on to the next thing in our life. We get impatient with ourselves when the feelings we try to suppress linger like a petulant child. The truth is in doing so, by ignoring what is actually taking place in the moment we are focusing our attention in suppressing rather than recovering from a shock.
The next time you are overwhelmed by a situation you cannot influence, big or small, try awareness of the impact instead:
- Bring you awareness to your breathing, is it quick and shallow? Observe where you feel your breath in your body, without changing anything.
- Observe any other sensations in your body, like clenched fists, heart pounding, chills, stiffening of limbs, without changing anything.
- Bring your awareness to your thoughts and observe them entering your mind, taking center stage and observe also how they move on, replaced by new thoughts.
- Observe how each thought makes you feel, become aware of the emotions you have without acting on them immediately.
Whatever the shock is that you are experiencing, you may have thoughts, judgements on their effect on you. You may feel shame for losing your composure. Observe how this is in reality a neutral thought. You can choose in this moment whether or not to buy into the thought. Importantly, realise that you are human. These feelings, these thoughts are part of the human condition. It happens, it’s normal. Let whatever thoughts and feelings you may have in this moment simply be there. However much effort you put into pushing them away they will only come back to be acknowledged. Acknowledge them now for what they are without judgement: feelings and thoughts.
You may even experience a degree of suffering and a desire to feel better. Be there for yourself. Comfort yourself, hold yourself as it were and if that feels uncomfortable, while that may be part of the experience in the beginning, you could imagine a child version of yourself who feels vulnerable and alone, the adult in you can hold. Talk to your younger self the same way you would speak to a loved one who is suffering. No one need hear it
Notice how the feelings and thoughts never remain the same, how they change and move out of your consciousness just as they flowed in as long as you stay unattached.
You could even bring your hand to rest on your heart as you do this, focusing your energy on kindness to yourself.
Take valued action
Feelings of shame and vulnerability persist particularly when we entertain negative judgements about ourselves. In an unconscious effort to feel better we lash out in anger, saying or doing things we end up regretting. Anger is an emotion difficult to control but you can make a conscious choice to honour your values in the way you express yourself.
Consider what your values are in the different relationships in your life. How would you like your relationships with loved ones to be? With friends or coworkers or your workplace? Also, consider even the relationship with yourself. How would you like to behave and where do you draw the line? Once you are consciously aware of how you value these relationships, there is a bigger chance you will be aware of boundaries and your values in the heat of the moment. Instead of lashing out to others – or to yourself for that matter, you can honour your values and express your feelings in emotions that do not harm others of yourself.
Count to Ten
Express how you feel, voice your vulnerability as a human, if only to yourself if you are not in a safe environment to do so and give yourself a moment or two to become aware of what is going on inside of you. Then, ask yourself what you need in this moment. Perhaps it is more time to make a decision, perhaps it is taking valued action.
The next time something happens that makes you need to count to ten, you’ll know what to do while you’re counting. Whatever you do, keep breathing.