By Kirsty Lilley, mental health specialist at CABA, the wellbeing charity
Most of us are feeling a bit weird right now. With everything that’s going on in the world, every day can seem like a new mountain to climb. We’ve found ourselves submerged in a climate of fear and uncertainty, so it’s only natural to feel anxious, scared, or even numb.
Over the past month you might have noticed these feelings tend to come and go, sometimes without much rhyme or reason. One day you’re fine but the next you’re struggling to even get out of bed in the morning. Remember, a lot has happened during this time. We’ve all gone through a collective adrenaline surge, which has kicked us into action and helped us navigate the first chapter. For many people, this will have triggered a fight-or-flight response, leading to a heightened sense of emotion. But now, as we start to adjust to a new way of living, we’re going to have to grieve the loss of our old lifestyles and social habits. And this means processing a lot of new thoughts and feelings.
When trying to come to terms with what’s going on internally, it’s important to know that we all respond differently to difficult situations. When we’re overwhelmed, our emotions can very quickly become hard to regulate – so don’t be surprised if you find yourself crying more often than usual or even bursting into fits of giggles when you hear a piece of bad news. This is because our brain focuses itself on the immediate threat within the environment when we’re stressed, and our inner capacity to cope is often reduced.
Why do we cry?
Crying is a natural response to feeling overwhelmed. So, if you find yourself getting upset during this time, remember that this is completely normal. What’s more, crying can often be a helpful stress reliever. Tears have a natural sedative quality, so they can be useful in lowering our emotions when they become heightened. Crying may also help us to process the emotion we are experiencing, and – from an evolutionary point of view – is a visible signal to others that we need some attention and care.
Is it OK to laugh?
Laughing is also a way to lower emotional arousal when people are feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes emotions are confusing and present at times when we may think that other responses would be more appropriate. However, our emotions often have different timescales to the events surrounding us. Laughing can be useful in times of crisis as it often helps to release endorphins, which are natural stress relieving and calming chemicals produced by the brain in response to situations around us. These endorphins are good at lowering our anxiety and reducing cortisol levels.
The most important thing is that you take some time to recognise when you’re getting anxious or overwhelmed and identify your particular signs, symptoms and triggers.
A daily check-in is helpful. Try asking yourself the following questions: ‘What’s happening for me today?’, ‘What am I thinking about?’, ‘How am I feeling?’, ‘What’s happening in my body?’, ‘What do I need right now?
Tips on how to cope with the extremes of emotion
You can also use some of the following tried-and-tested ways of reducing emotional overwhelm. Aim to make them part of your daily routine.
Simple breathing techniques
Breathing in through the nose for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of four, and then breathing out through the mouth for a count of four. Repeat about 5 -6 times.
A well-known grounding technique that gets you to use all of your senses. It starts with you sitting comfortably, closing your eyes and taking a couple of deep breathes. In through your nose (count to 3), out through your mouth (count of 3).
Now open your eyes and look around you. Name out loud:
- 5 things you can see (you can look within the room and out of the window)
- 4 things you can feel (the silkiness of your skin, the texture of the material on your chair, what does your hair feel like?)
- 3 things you can hear (traffic noise or birds outside)
- 2 things you can smell (scented candles, flowers, dinner)
- 1 thing you can taste (it might be a good idea to keep a piece of chocolate or other food you enjoy handy. Take a small bite and let it swill around your mouth for a couple of seconds, really savouring the flavour)
Distracting brain games
There are several ways to distract your mind so that it stops thinking about whatever it is that is worrying you and focuses on something that isn’t emotionally driven. Here are two quick ways to do it:
- Pick a colour. How many things in different shades of that colour can you see around the room or out of the window? Still feeling stressed? Pick another colour.
- Count backwards by 7, starting at 100. It isn’t that easy and needs you to concentrate. This one can also be helpful to do when you are finding it hard to sleep.
Talk to someone
Talk to someone you feel safe and comfortable with about how you are feeling. Identify those people that are more helpful during times like this so you can pull on them when needed. Keep contact numbers etc close at hand and think about writing a wellbeing plan to identify what would be helpful for you during times of difficulty.
For more help and advice on managing your emotions, visit the help and guides section on CABA’s website: https://www.caba.org.uk/help-and-guides