One of the most difficult things about 2020 has been the level of disagreement and conflict we are seeing from family, friends, and strangers. Conflicts are everywhere today around very important and substantial issues. The elections, equality for the oppressed, COVID-19 safety, vaccinations, and other big issues are piled high in our minds, meaning that adding any more conflict can produce an escalated response. While we may normally not experience heightened depression, anxiety, or anger, the issues of today sure can bring it out!
I think of this phenomenon as being like a pot of emotional energy in my chest. When life is stable and easier, there’s no problem managing emotions as they naturally ebb and flow. But, when large-scale, societal issues are present and their stress is added to that pot, there’s less capacity for other emotions. The result can be an overflow, an outburst, or an eruption. Our emotional responses to problems may be larger than they usually are because of the items added to our pot by the uncontrollable circumstances. What to do? Here are some helpful approaches and things to remember. 1) Remind yourself of your value. Others around you may not have the emotional capacity these days to remind you of that, so you’ll likely have to do it yourself. You are a woman or man of great inherent value, regardless of the surprising or oppressive messages you may be receiving from those around you. Your needs are important and valid. You can express yourself freely and equally with those you love. You have what it takes.
2) Take Care of Yourself. Self-care is the most important thing to do in times of extended crisis. Flight attendants instruct passengers that in case of emergency they are to place the oxygen masks on themselves first and their children later. An incapacitated person can’t help others. For this same reason, you have to invest the time to care for yourself. You can give yourself permission to do that. Caring for yourself is caring for others.
3) Remember That Others Are Hurting, Too. The words and actions that other people direct toward you are almost always because of what is going on in their own minds and rarely because of what you’ve actually said or done. Sometimes it is due to your actions, of course, and you can apologize and/or make that right if you choose. But most of the time, it’s their own issue more than it is yours. Receive any helpful correction and move along. Set the boundary of not letting their criticism become your opinion of yourself.
4) Become Mindful of Your Emotional State. Check in with yourself during more emotionally difficult times. Name the feelings that you’re experiencing in the moment. This helps because it begins the process of applying logic to emotional flooding. Once you can label it, you can almost always know what to do to help manage it. You might try checking in with yourself several times a day, even on the hour, during more trying times.
5) Phone a Friend. Healthy social connection makes us naturally more resilient. Reach out to those you trust to listen and be supportive. While COVID-related restrictions are limiting social gatherings, you can likely still connect through video chat, text, or the phone. You may need the social connection more than you realize.
6) Consider Counseling. (You knew this would be #5, didn’t you?) :) You’re probably NOT “crazy”. There’s probably nothing “wrong” with you. But you also don’t have to go it alone. Counseling helps people sort out their feelings logically in a safe and warm environment. It often takes 6 sessions or less to feel more put together, stable, resilient, and self-aware.