Emotions and moods such as grief, rejection, loss, trauma, anger, anxiety and depression can feel confusing and overwhelming. Sometimes we try to avoid the pain, which in turn can deepen the mood. Often the pain is magnified by the narrative or story that we tell ourself. When we feel rejected, we might tell ourself that we feel useless. After a trauma, we might feel unsafe.
Depending on our culture and our history with other people,we might have certain ideas about how we should express or not express emotion. Take for example the following hypothetical situation.
Grace has just moved to Hong Kong from a small town in the USA where everyone knows each other. She is feeling overwhelmed by the long working hours and the chaos of the big city. She is struggling to make friends because people are so busy. She begins to tell herself that she will be single and alone forever.
These thoughts create anxious, lonely and sad feelings for her. When Grace was growing up, her family taught her to be tough and not to cry. Grace is not sure what emotions she is feeling and she is not sure how to express them. She judges herself harshly for crying and feeling sad.
Here are some pointers for processing uncomfortable emotions:
- Get out of your head. Sometimes when we have uncomfortable emotions, we ruminate and think about the distressing event over and over again. When we overthink we might feel as if we are being proactive and solving a problem. When we worry we add stress hormones into our body. To slow down our brain, we can connect to our body through our senses. This will help to calm down our nervous system. An easy five minute exercise to do is to close your eyes and just focus on what sounds you can hear. What sounds can you hear that are far away and what sounds can you hear that are close? What can you smell? What do you smell like? Where are you tense in your body?
- Be patient with yourself. Certain emotions such as shock, loss,depression and grief can slow down our brain and body. It is during these times that we allow ourselves some time to feel and heal. Be compassionate towards yourself. Don’t judge your feelings. Our emotions give us information about ourselves and our environment.
- Write your story. Writing about your story, your feelings or an event can help you to get perspective. Writing it out encourages you to slow down and really process what is happening.
- Reach out for social support. Speaking about how you feel is similar to writing as it helps you to form the vocabulary to express what you are thinking and feeling. It also allows a space for trust and intimacy to develop between two people.
- Reach out for professional help. A professional can give you perspective and help you to heal in a safe place free of judgement.
Dr Monica Borschel is a psychologist at the MindNLife clinic in Central. You can book a private or Skype session by calling +852 2521 4668 or email firstname.lastname@example.org