Are you OK? But are you… really?
It’s fine if your not, you know. A lot of people are definitely not OK right now.
As we keep hearing, we are living through unprecedented/uncertain/scary times, and it’s making us all feel weird. And this peak in our collective anxiety is clashing horribly with the sudden slow-down of our lifestyles. We’re all feeling scared, and we can’t do the things we would normally do to make ourselves feel better – like seeing friends, dancing in a bar until 3 am, or even just going outside.
This confusing set of circumstances can manifest in unpredictable emotional patterns that can have you swinging from one extreme to the other with nauseating speed.
So, if you find yourself randomly bursting into tears over your cornflakes, or being overtaken by a manic fit of giggles during a particularly bleak news item, don’t worry. This is normal.
A crisis can fray your emotional boundaries and push everything much closer to the surface, so flipping between sadness, fear, excitement and agitation is to be expected. You’re not alone if you’re feeling this. And it will settle.
We’ve all just got to strap in and ride this rollercoaster out.
CABA Mental Health Specialist Kirsty Lilley, has explained why it’s completely normal to feel like you’re losing control of your emotions at times like this.
She says that we all respond differently to overwhelming situations, and our emotions can very quickly become difficult to regulate.
‘When we are stressed the brain is focused on threat in the environment and our inner capacity to cope which is often reduced,’ Kirsty tells Metro.co.uk.
‘Negative thoughts can alter our perception in terms of our ability to cope with the demands that are coming towards us.
‘Crying is a natural response to overwhelm and as tears have a natural sedative quality, they can be useful in lowering our emotional arousal.’
So crying can actually help to calm you down. That’s good to know.
Kirtsy adds that letting out those tears can also help us to process the emotion we’re experiencing and, from an evolutionary point of you, they signal to others that we need some help. So don’t be afraid to show emotion on your next Zoom or Houseparty catch up, your friends are probably feeling the same.
‘It’s important to reiterate that crying during this time is understandable, normal and often a helpful stress reliever,’ says Kirstie. ‘Laughing in this way is also a way to lower emotional arousal when people are feeling overwhelmed.
‘Sometimes emotions are confusing and present at times when we may have thought that other responses were more appropriate, but our emotions often have different timescales to events surrounding us.’
Which might explain why you’re feeling giggles bubbling up in your chest at random times, or when nothing funny is happening.
‘Laughing may also release endorphins which are natural stress relieving and calming chemicals which the brain produces in response to situations around us,’ adds Kirstie, ‘lowering our anxiety and reducing cortisol levels.’
So, even though these random outbursts of emotion may be normal, they can also be quite hard to deal with.
Whether you’re working from home, home schooling your kids, helping out elderly neighbours, or just trying to exist day-to-day, emotional extremes can get in the way of what you’re trying to achieve. And feeling slightly unhinged all day doesn’t allow for much relaxation time.
So, how do you cope when you feel your emotions heading for another round of loop-the-loops?
‘Taking some time to recognise when you are getting anxious or overwhelmed and what your particular signs and symptoms are is a helpful way to check in with yourself and noting what is happening for you,’ says Kirstie.
‘We all respond differently, and anxiety looks different for each of us. A daily check in is helpful, asking yourself, “What’s happening for me today?”, “What am I thinking about?”, “How am I feeling?”, “What’s happening in my body?”, “What do I need right now?”‘
Kirstie has suggested some tried and tested techniques that can help to reduce the feeling of being emotionally overwhelmed:
Box breathing technique
Breathing in through the nose for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of four and then breathing out through the mouth for a count of four.
Repeat this five or six times, saying to yourself internally ‘breathing in’ as you do so and ‘breathing out’ as you do so.
54321 breathing technique
This is a well-known grounding technique. It involves using all your five senses to help you to get back to the present.
It starts with you sitting comfortably, close your eyes and taking a couple of deep breathes. In through your nose (count to 3), out through your mouth (to the count of 3).
Now open your eyes and look around you.
Name out loud: 5 things you can see (you can look within the room and out of the window) 4 things you can feel (the silkiness of your skin, the texture of the material on your chair, what does your hair feel like?) 3 things you can hear (traffic noise or birds outside?) 2 things you can smell (hopefully nothing awful)1 thing you can taste (it might be a good idea to keep a piece of chocolate or other food you enjoy handy. Take a small bite and let it swill around your mouth for a couple of seconds, really savouring the flavour).
Take a deep breath to end.
Distracting brain games
There are several ways to distract your mind so it stops thinking about whatever it is that is worrying you and focuses on something that isn’t emotionally driven. Here are my favourite two quick ways to do it:
Pick a colour. How many things in different shades of that colour can you see around the room or out of the window?
Still feeling stressed? Pick another colour.
Or, count backwards in sevens, starting at 100. It isn’t that easy and requires you to concentrate. This one can also be helpful to do when you are finding it hard to sleep.
Talk to someone
Talk to someone you feel safe and comfortable with about how you are feeling. Identify those people who are more helpful during times likes this so you can pull on them when needed.
Keep contact numbers close at hand and think about writing a well-being plan to identify what would be helpful for you during times of difficulty.
It’s important to remember that even if your emotions feel more erratic and unpredictable than they ever have before, you are not alone – and it won’t last forever.
We are all working hard to find new ways of existing in this temporary new normal, and we are rapidly trying to piece together social support and anditodes for isolation and loneliness – but it’s OK if you’re struggling with the transition.
‘Whatever you are feeling is OK and a natural, understandable response to very abnormal events,’ Kirstie tells us.
‘Bottling up how you are feeling and pretending to be OK when you are struggling is unlikely to help and will reduce your ability to keep grounded and a sense of calm and perspective.’
She says this is a time to share how we are feeling and make space for yourself to process the many different emotional psychological issues that will undoubtedly arise.
‘We need to come together as a community to support each other and provide safe and supportive spaces which recognise that we all respond differently and we each have different needs,’ Kirstie adds.
We have to agree. And if you’re feeling fine, make sure you share your coping techniques with your friends and remember to check in.
Pay particularly attention to those friends who you think of as ‘strong’ – they might actually find it harder to reach out for support.
Need support? Contact the Samaritans
For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.
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