Tools for emotional emergencies

 

When we feel overwhelmed, it can be helpful to have some emergency tools to help us deal with it.

We may can feel overwhelmed when a strong emotional issue or trauma is triggered in us. And this can happen from daily life situations. Or it can come up as part of an ongoing healing or awakening process.

I have selected a few tools for this article that I have found helpful for myself.

These are emergency tools. They won’t solve the issue themselves but they can help us relate to them differently and help us through the strongest parts of the storm.

If you are currently overwhelmed, just do something simple that helps you here and now. Ask for help. And if something in this list resonates with you, try it and see if it helps. Don’t force yourself to do anything. Be kind with yourself.

If you are currently in a more calm place, I suggest you try each tool out for yourself, see which one or ones resonate with you, and get comfortable using it so it’s easier to apply when you need it.

AMPLIFY / RELEASE

Make whatever goes on for you stronger for a few seconds. Then release, let it all go, and rest for a few seconds. Notice the difference before and after. Repeat a few times if necessary.

See if you can make the uncomfortable sensations stronger. Make the scary thoughts and images stronger. Do it for perhaps five seconds. Then release. Relax. Let it all go. Do this for a few seconds. Notice the difference before and after and repeat once or a few times if necessary.

Don’t worry if you are unable to actually make the sensations etc. stronger. It’s the intention and engaging in the trying that it’s important.

I love this tool and it can help reduce the strength of what’s going on. I assume it works because our resistance to uncomfortable experiences makes it stronger and tends to hold it in place. Using this tool, we go against this resistance and intentionally try to make it stronger. That helps us release the resistance and it also shows us that the sensations, thoughts and so on are not as scary as they seemed.

BE KIND WITH YOURSELF

Place your hands on your chest and belly. Breathe slowly and intentionally.

Say kind and soothing words to yourself, as you would to a child or a good friend. For instance: I love you. I love you just as you are. This will pass. You are stronger and more resilient than you realize. Everything you are feeling is OK as it is. This is part of the universal human suffering we all sometimes experience.

You can also say to what’s coming up – the pain, fear, panic, loneliness, anger: Thank you for protecting me. You are safe here. I love you. Repeat.

Say: I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you. Repeat several times. Say it to yourself. Or the suffering part of you. Or who or what triggered the reaction in you. (This is a beautiful Hawaiian practice called Ho’oponopno.)

ATTENTION TO PHYSICAL SENSATIONS

Pay attention to the sensations in your body connected with the emotions. See if you can set aside any thoughts and mental images for a little while.

Stay with the physical sensations. Find some curiosity about them. Where do you feel it? Do they have a boundary? If you close your eyes, can you also notice the boundless space they happen within? Can you notice the space and the sensations at the same time? Do the sensations get stronger? Weaker? Do you notice sensations other places in the body?

It can really help to learn to pay attention to the physical sensations and set aside related thoughts and mental images. It helps us ground. It helps us notice that the charge of emotions come from body sensations. And we may notice that it’s often OK to set aside stressful thoughts for a while. We don’t need to actively fuel them.

BREATH

Slow and intentional breathing helps calm our system. There are several ways to explore this.

One is the alternate nostril breathing from yoga. Use a finger to block one nostril and take a relaxed and full in-and-out breath with the other. Switch. Repeat several times. Notice any differences before and after.

Another is to breathe out as much air as you can and allow your lungs to fill up again naturally. Repeat a few times.

And and yet another is to lie down, place one hand on the chest and another on the belly, and breathe slowly and intentionally. This can be combined with breathing as much air out as possible and then allowing the air to fill up the lungs naturally.

NATURE & PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES

Spend time in nature. We belong to and evolved in nature so this can be soothing and nurturing. Walk barefoot if conditions allow.

Walk. Run. Scream. Sing. Jump up and down while landing on your heels. Do strength training. Swim. Do yoga. Shake. Use your body. Take a good bath.

Put your face in cold water or splash cold water on your face. This can help calm down your system.

BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF

Identify your stressful thoughts. Write them down. Be gently and brutally honest with yourself. What’s more true than these stressful thoughts? If your life dependent on being brutally honest with yourself, what would you tell yourself? Finding what’s more true for us is often a relief.

For instance, my mind may tell itself it’s too much, I can’t handle it. Is that true? What’s the reality? The reality is that I am still here. I seem to know how to handle it, somehow.

This one may depend on some practice with inquiry. As with the other tools here, only use it if it works for you.

MORE STRUCTURED APPROACHES

The Work of Byron Katie can be great for dealing with stressful and overwhelming thoughts and corresponding emotions. Look up the free helpline where a facilitator will help you through the process.

Another form of inquiry, the Living Inquiries, can also be of great help although it does require some ability to rest and notice.

Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) helps release tension out of the body through the natural and in-built tremoring mechanism.

And Vortex Healing can help your system relax relatively quickly. This can be done at a distance.

Common for all of these is that you’ll need an experienced practitioner to help you unless you have some experience with it (The Work and TRE) or gone through the training yourself (Living Inquiries, Vortex Healing).

NOTES

There are a lot of other tools out there. Find the ones that work for you and practice when your system is more calm so you get familiar with using them.

You may notice that many of these tools have to do with the body, nature, and our physical world. That’s not coincidence. When we go into overwhelm, it’s usually because we actively fuel stressful thoughts and mental images. This can happen more or less consciously. In either case, it helps to bring attention to something physical and here-and-now.

I have written more in-depth about some of these tools. Follow the tags to find these articles. I also have a small booklet on the back-burner with these and more tools.

Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

Using reverse psychology with stress and discomfort

 

This is one of my favorite little “tricks”, and it helps me change how I relate to stressful thoughts, uncomfortable emotions, and some types of physical discomfort.

In a nutshell:

Notice what’s going on. Take a few seconds to make it as strong as you can. Let it go and rest for a few seconds. Repeat two or three times. Notice any changes.

And a few examples:

I notice frustration with my health. I take a few seconds to make it as strong as I can. I let it go and relax. After a few seconds, I repeat. I notice any changes or shifts. (The frustration doesn’t seem so much like a problem, there is more space and lightness.)

There is a slight headache at my temples. I intend to make it as strong as I can for two to five seconds. I release it and rest. After five to ten seconds, I repeat. (I notice my relationship to it has changed. It doesn’t seem as much as a problem and there is a sense of spaciousness.)

I notice some anger in the background. I intend to make it as strong as I can for a few seconds. Release. Repeat. (After, I notice spaciousness. A sense of freedom around it. A sense of befriending the anger more. And less anger.)

Why or how does this work? Any time I experience something that’s uncomfortable to me, my mind tends to be in a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) struggle with it. There is a wish to escape from it or for it to go away. And this subtle struggle tends to hold it in place.

When I reverse this by intending to make it stronger, there is a 180-degree shift in how I relate to it. Instead of struggling with it, I join it. I support it in its effort. I consciously join its team. And this, at least temporarily, releases the struggle.

Doing this is a process of changing my relationship to it. Finding some curiosity about it. Befriending it. And this is not only a relief but can allow it to shift and move and find its freedom.

What’s uncomfortable is made uncomfortable because my mind fights it. It’s not uncomfortable in itself. It’s my relationship to it that makes it uncomfortable. So by shifting my relationship to it, it’s not experienced in the same way anymore.

Most of the articles here are about healing and awakening through aligning with reality. Notice what’s already here. Notice what I am. Living more consciously as what I am.

This one is a little different since it’s more a “trick”. But it does get us to the same place of getting to know something previously exiled in us, and perhaps befriending it and changing our relationship to it.

Like so much in these articles, it’s a small piece of the puzzle.

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Noticing and labeling experience

 
Notice and labeling our experience is more used in mainstream psychology these days, and it’s also a traditional practice in Buddhism. Here is the general practice:

Notice what’s here. And give it a label.

This label can be very basic: A thought, sensation, sound, sight, taste, smell. Or it can go a little further in interpreting what it is: A man, woman, sadness, words, mental images, discomfort, and so on. As an emergency measure to help us deal with discomfort and distress, we can approach it in a few different ways, and a combination can be most effective.

Notice the emotions. Label the emotion(s). Anger. Sadness. Joy. Elation. 

Notice the overall experience. Label it. Overwhelm. Compulsion. Reactivity. Distress. 

Notice the thoughts, the mental words and images. Words. Mental images.

We can do it for a set period of time, perhaps once or twice a day. This functions as a laboratory and testing ground so we become more familiar with how to do it and what it does for us. Noticing and labeling become more familiar to us, and that makes it easier to bring it into daily life. In daily life, we can do it specifically when we notice an experience that’s stressful, uncomfortable, or distressing to us. Sadness. Anger. Compulsion. Words. Mental images. This creates a distance to whatever we notice, and label. And that makes it easier to relate to it more intentionally and a little more dispassionately. It goes from an I to an it. From subject to object. From what I am to something that’s here. Read More

Reminder: It’s not life threatening

 

It’s not life threatening. That can be a very helpful reminder when our system is on high alert, either from external or internal stimuli. External stimuli can be sounds, visuals, smell, taste, or the situation. Internal stimuli are images, words, and sensory input. And it’s really all the same, it’s all happening within my awareness as sensory input with associated images or words.

This is one way to help our system relax, relate differently to the stimuli, and over time reorganize and reorient towards a more consistently relaxed response to non-life threatening stimuli.

Emergency measures

 

When something – an emotion, physical or emotional pain, cravings and addictions – feels overwhelming and unbearable, what do we do?

As psychologists (and others) identified a while ago, there is a range of coping strategies. From the more unhealthy ones such as drinking, using drugs, and aggression and violence, to the moderately unhealthy ones such as eating, shopping, and entertainment, to the more helpful ones such as friendships, nature, movement, to the ones that may resolve it all such as inquiry and seeing through the beliefs of overwhelm and unbearable.

Among the latter, some may be helpful short term and some in the longer term. And we each have to find what works for us.

Here are some emergency measures that works for me:

Move. Go for a walk. Do self-Breema. Shake (TRE). Jump up and down in place.

Talk with a friend.

Conscious breathing. Place hands on belly and chest and notice the breath. Make outbreath longer than inbreath. Breathe into the sensation, allow the sensation and breath to merge.

Feel the sensations. Feel them as sensations. (Set the stories aside for a while, if I can.)

Use ho’oponopono. Say to myself (the scared part of me), I am sorry, please forgive me, I love you. Say this also to whatever triggered it. (A person, symptom, situation.)

Alternately amplify and drop the stressful stories. (10 sec. each, described by Joey Lott in some of his books).

Tapping. (EFT type tapping.)

Say to myself: I love you. I love you. I love you. / It’s OK to feel this.

Ask myself: Is it true this is overwhelming? Is it true it’s too much? It’s unbearable, is it true?

And some longer term strategies:

Inquire into how I relate to what’s been triggered.

Can I find the threat? The overwhelm? Intensity? Pain? (Living Inquiries.)

Is it true it’s unbearable? Too much? (The Work.)

Inquire into the triggers. (Perceived threats.)

Inquire into being triggered. (My stories about it, deficient identities, fears.)

I posted a question about this on a Facebook page for inquiry, and here are two answers I found especially helpful:

Venting to a best friend. Talking it out, focusing on how I feel versus the triggering event or person. Giving it that voice helps it wash through through a big honest cry.

Also, lately I’ve been using the words “I am willing to feel this” with whatever arises. Physical or emotional pain, lately it works for me most of the time. Another one: Put my hand on my heart and say “I love you” over and over again. or Put my hand on the area of my body that hurts/triggered and do the same thing. “I love you” “I’m sorry you’re feeling this” “I love you”. caress my face, caress my arms, like a pet… for a few minutes. tapping also. These are mine.

– Marina B.

An interesting question. As time has gone on, I’ve discovered that it’s possible to rest with even the most intense states/feelings. That’s been incredibly valuable, as I spent many years feeling that I couldn’t be with what I was feeling, and so using all the tools that we’ve described above, and more. They certainly have their place, and yet what has helped me the most is being with or resting or inquiring even in the direst of times. There’s something so profound about discovering we do have the capacity to bear it all, even when it feels unbearable

– Fiona R.

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