How are you feeling? Living through the COVID-19 pandemic is emotional. No way around it. Expect to feel the whole gambit of emotions, from fear, to frustration and anger, worry, to feeling lost, sad, confused, grateful, etc. One of our Facebook readers asked about grief and the loss of our ‘normal’ life given the pandemic. Yes, add grieving and feeling loss to the list of emotions you will likely feel.
In response to our question ‘How are you feeling today’, one reader responded “All of the above..lol.” All of the above means they are feeling: awesome, stressed, could use a friend, feel like pulling their hair out and ok, wondering what is next. This reader is likely speaking for many Canadians!
Rest assured you are not alone. It is completely normal and expected to feel the whole range of emotions. That does not mean you need to be run by them and be ‘emotionally wrecked’, so to speak. One of the best things we can do for ourselves and our relationships during this pandemic is to manage our feelings.
Why does this even need to be said? It needs to be said because the 3 major ways many of us handle difficult feelings are: suppression/repression, expression, and escape, and none of these 3 are effective management.
Suppression is conscious and repression is unconscious. Another way of putting it is that we push our feelings down and out of our awareness. We do this because we don’t know what to do with our feelings. Often, people have feelings about their feelings. For example, we may feel guilty about feeling scared when we are not in a high risk category during these COVID-19 times. To keep these feelings out of our awareness, we either deny them (“What, me scared?”) or project them onto others (“You are so scared…get a grip”).
Suppression and repression come at a cost: irritability, mood swings, muscle tensions (especially neck and back), headaches, and insomnia to list just a few.
Expression is when we verbalize, vent, or express our feelings in body language. It is commonly believed that the expression of negative feelings frees us from our feelings. However, when we express a feeling, the feeling tends to get bigger as we are giving the feeling greater energy. You have probably noticed this. It is like adding gasoline to a fire. We can become attached and stuck in the feeling.
There are times of course when expression is exactly what is called for, for example, when you have a history of never speaking up for yourself or you are unsafe. However, there can be a downside to expression, particularly when it is venting.
Escape is about avoidance of feelings. Welcome to the world of alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, workaholism, the entertainment industry, texting, shopping, gambling, excessive exercising, etc. There really is an endless list of activities we can engage in to keep our feelings at bay. Escapism is both stressful and an ineffective way of dealing with feelings.
Do you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions? No judgement please. What, then, can we do with our feelings if we aren’t repressing them, venting them or trying to escape from them?
Here is a simple truth: Feelings come and go easily if we do not repress them or attach to them. The process of doing that is simple, and it is easier said than done. That is why it requires consciously paying attention to our feelings and what we are doing with them.
Management of our feelings/Self- regulation
- Acknowledge/name how you are feeling.
Feelings are not right or wrong-they just are. Don’t block or avoid the emotions you feel. Otherwise, you will be run by them. What we resist, persists. In Brene Brown’s words, when we deny our feelings, they double down, burrow fester, grow, metastasize. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.
How? Notice the feeling. Just let the feeling come up and be there. Allow it to be there.
Example: I notice I am feeling scared (as opposed to I’m scared). You are having a feeling, you are not the feeling.
- Don’t hold on to the feelings or try to change them.
Ignore all thoughts that come up because they are there to prop up and hold onto the feeling. Thoughts are like bait to a fish; if we bite at them, we get caught.
You can look at your feelings as weather coming in. If you just notice, and let it run its course, the weather (feeling) will pass. This is the essence of meditation- learning to watch and not engage the thoughts or feelings.
- Use your breath to calm yourself down and when you are feeling ‘stuck’ in a negative or difficult feeling. There are numerous breathing exercises and techniques available. Here is the most basic one: belly breathing.
Belly breathing (also referred to as diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing)
- Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
- Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move.
- Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in and use it to push all the air out.
- Do this breathing 3 to 10 times. Take your time with each breath.
- Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.
Even more simply, you can take an exaggerated breath: a deep inhale through your nostrils (3 seconds), hold your breath (2 seconds), and a long exhale through your mouth (4 seconds).
Managing the emotions you feel will serve you and others well as we weather these uncertain and difficult times. In support, we can ask one another ‘How are you feeling?’ And in support of one another and ourselves, we don’t have to live in that feeling.
What strategies do you use to manage your feelings during this COVID-19 pandemic?