When you’re overwhelmed by feeling, such as grief, anger, sadness or frustration, it may seem like it will never end. We have a natural tendency to resist these feelings, to stuff them or avoid them, and we may turn to things like food or alcohol to avoid feeling them. As Carl Jung wisely pointed out, “What you resist persists.” Pushing those feelings away or stuffing them deep inside only makes them stick around all that much longer. So how can you deal with them?
1. Feel them – Emotions are energy in motion, and they will pass through you if you allow them to. Brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor noticed this when she was recovering from her stroke and no longer had the option of avoiding emotions. She felt each one pass through her and noticed it went through her body in about 90 seconds. When I’m in overwhelm in feeling, it may take me longer to process emotions than 90 seconds, so I try to find time when I can allow myself to fully experience what I’m feeling. And I like to remember Winston Churchill’s quote “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
2. Find ways to simplify – When I have experienced this kind of overwhelm, I have little to no ability to make decisions. Even the simplest decisions, like what to eat for lunch or what to wear, can seem overwhelming. To help myself create space to process my emotions, I simplify or eliminate the necessity of making small decisions. For example, I’ll make a large pot of butternut squash soup and eat it for lunches for the week, varying a side fruit or vegetable if I need variety.
3. Use music to soothe the soul – I am very moved by and affected by music, and I’ve found I can use it to help me get through overwhelming emotions. When I was going through a rough period of grief, I created a playlist I called “Recovery” that included songs that tapped into the sorrow as well as songs which spoke to empowerment. I also have certain songs I listen to (and sing loudly to) when I’m feeling intense anger or frustration.
4. Incorporate movement – As energy, emotions want to flow, and it can be helpful to incorporate action to help them move through your body. While some get significant release from running, others may find that the gentle movements of yoga or Tai Chi are more effective. Even taking a brief walk can help you to move stuck energy.
5. Give yourself loving kindness – The practice of loving kindness comes from the Buddhist tradition, and I love its simplicity and effectiveness. Loving kindness always begins with the self – sending yourself love, peace, wellness. From there it moves to those you love, and finally those you are in conflict with. One version of loving kindness is:
May I be safe. May I be well. May I be at peace.
May you be safe. May you be well. May you be at peace.
May we be safe. May we be well. May we be at peace
I learned a song version of this and recorded it to share with others: listen to the Metta Sutta.
If you’re currently in the throes of overwhelming emotion, I encourage you to treat yourself gently, and give yourself time to move through your feelings. The more you lean into it, the faster you get through it. And if you need help, consider scheduling a free 30-minute sample session with me for coaching.