For most of us the global pandemic and the shelter-in-place order has been incredibly challenging and brought up a lot of varied emotions. The process of re-opening our economy has brought additional stress to us in a myriad of ways. And now, the recent protesting and rioting has brought up even more emotions for many of us.
We need to take the opportunity to pause and be with whatever emotions are coming up for us. It’s critical that we take care of our own “stuff” first, so that we can expand our capacity to support and lead our teams.
With most of the stay-at-home orders being lifted, have you noticed how many cars there are on the road again? We are eager to get back out there and that’s mostly a good thing. We can improve our mental health by leaving our house (using common sense) and connecting with others where possible.
Let’s not move too fast though. Staying at home has been an opportunity to pause and marvel at just how busy we kept ourselves in our “old” life. When you think back on your pre-quarantine day-to-day, can you believe how much you crammed in, often at the expense of mental, physical and spiritual well-being?
That busy-ness served a purpose: it helped us ignore or numb our uncomfortable emotions, things like grief, frustration and loneliness. According to Brene’ Brown, “‘Numbing’ takes the edge off of stress and pain.” Instead of facing the depth and discomfort of these feelings, we might numb ourselves with a trip to Costco, extra time in the office, or taking care of everyone else (except yourself). We weren’t taking the time to deal with some of the most gut-wrenching issues in our lives.
And now, three months into a pandemic that has forced many of us to stay home where there is less stimulation, our brains are in a different place. We’re able to access emotions that were previously shut down or compartmentalized… and for some of us, especially given the racial strife, the realizations bubbling up aren’t exactly pleasant.
How Will You Address the Emotion?
When we slow down and find ourselves with more time and space, the things that typically come up are issues and feelings that we simply don’t want to address. It could be grief (from the pandemic, the racial unrest, or something else), conflict within a relationship, or deeply buried anger, to name a few examples.
I have had many discussions with clients recently about the uncomfortable nature of slowing down so much that they actually become aware of their feelings. Some people are noticing and exploring these issues that bubble up, while others are not quite ready to dive in yet.
I like to use the analogy of a house here. Imagine you’re in the most comfortable place in your home: your bedroom, family room or kitchen, perhaps. This space represents your comfort zone, emotionally.
Now imagine investigating other places in your house that you have been too busy to check out. A hallway closet may represent a personal loss you have yet to fully grieve; an attic may represent a conversation with your partner that you’ve avoided for months. The basement may be your worry about how you will survive in the era of COVID-19, and your rarely visited living room might be sadness due to systemic racism.
In my conversations with clients, I encourage them to acknowledge and investigate these spaces and emotions they have been avoiding. Often, a client will say, “I don’t want to open that door!” So I ask them, “What are you resisting? What are you feeling and where did it come from? What would it be like to open the door an inch, just to see what’s there?”
If they’re ready, we’ll bravely explore, and ultimately find a way to work through the emotions they’ve been avoiding. I can tell you that it typically results in the feeling that a heavy weight has been lifted off their shoulders and it frees up energy for other things.
How to Deal with Newly-Surfaced Emotions
How can we “be with” all the emotion bubbling to the surface? I have a few ideas that can help.
Set Aside Time to “Go Dark”
Don’t ignore the impulse to crawl into a hole and stay there until this is all over. I can tell you with certainty that resisting this feeling, shoving it down and ignoring it will suck the life out of you—it takes energy to resist (not to mention that it’s stressful for our bodies when we suppress emotion, and can ultimately lead to a weakened immune system and other ailments).
Instead, use your energy to actually experience the emotion that’s coming up. Truly feeling an emotion will cause it to dissipate faster and allow you to move forward.
The key to “going dark” is to give yourself a set amount of time that has an end point. I suggest setting aside 30 minutes where you cocoon up in a favorite chair with a cozy blanket, candles and a journal where you can identify the emotions that come to light. Give yourself the time and the space to fully feel all the emotions that are present for you. Allow them to move through you. And then let them go.
Spend Time Journaling
Let’s look a little more closely at the idea of journaling. Writing down your emotions — and naming them — can help you move through the feelings more quickly. If we don’t do this, we may find ourselves sitting in a pit of ambiguous unpleasantness wondering, “What is going on with me?”
When you write, try to give your emotions a name. Use this emotions wheel if you are struggling to identify what you are feeling.
Write out the thoughts you’re having, and you’ll soon see that much of what is going through your head is just a story. For instance, if you find yourself writing, “I’m feeling lazy and worthless right now because I can’t get anything done,” you’ll be able to read it back and find a sense of compassion for yourself. Of course you’re not lazy and worthless — more likely you’re feeling overwhelmed by the circumstances.
Talk to Someone
You may find these new emotions confusing or very hard to process. Sharing them with someone you trust can be very helpful in making sense of them and giving them a space to breathe. A close friend, therapist, coach, or even a pet can assist you in this; just saying the emotions out loud can help you move through them.
If you or your team would like support during these challenging times, let’s talk. Click HERE to connect with me directly. These topics are not easy. If we decide that further mental health support is needed, I will help you identify the next steps.