How can I cope with all these feelings?
You may have times, situations or relationships in your life which create strong emotional responses for you. These strong feelings may manifest in urges, bodily sensations, energy levels and behaviours. All of us have learnt ways of responding to these feelings, both in our environment, as we grew up and as a means of coping, as we tuned in to what worked for us at that time.
As a baby we learn to regulate our emotions from our primary caregiver/s, meaning when we get very upset, angry, sad or overwhelmed or even very excited or joyful, our adults help us manage these feelings, so they are tolerable. A caregiver/parent may hug a child, soothe with their voice, support the child to make sense of their experience or help them find a way of expressing their emotion.
Sometimes the person who was responsible for caring for the baby cannot provide this way of helping, so the child continues to feel very big, strong feelings which they might respond to, in a way which sets a pattern. We produce large amounts of cortisol when we are very stressed and this can cause our system to shut down, freeze or try to flee, or become defensive, all as attempts to survive the perceived threat.
Learning to self-soothe and to regulate our emotions is really hard, particularly if we missed out on help to do this as a baby but it is the best gift you can ever give yourself, as life always throws things in our path that create feelings which we then react to.
So how do we do this? Crafting this way of coping and regulating can be done in a myriad of ways. If you are experiencing symptoms of trauma or have a high number of adverse childhood experiences, you may wish to seek some professional support in clearing some of the trauma stored in your system, which catapults you into a survival mode. If you have done this, or you feel you just want to improve your way of managing your responses, then you can consider some of these ideas.
Body scanning is a way of connecting with the sensations in your body to begin to notice the way your emotions show up in your physical self. We hold emotions in our body and expressions such as heart ache, when we feel sadness in our chest, jelly legs for fear, and many more everyday expressions, are all manifestations of this. Starting to connect with the sensations you experience, as you go through your day, and even with a focused body scan (there are loads on YouTube) starts you on this journey of connection.
Connecting with your feelings and actually acknowledging them, brings them into conscious awareness, which gives you an opportunity to pay attention . What is this emotion saying to me? What is its purpose? Sadness might mean you have some grieving to do, anger might mean something has crossed a boundary, fear may mean there is something you need to attend to or to take steps to look after yourself.
Spending time with your feelings and if they are too much, just trying to connect for a few seconds before moving away, can increase your tolerance for being with them. We are wired for co- regulation which is why therapy can be a helpful tool to start this connection, as your therapist can be your co- regulator.
There are many more ways to regulate and find your window of tolerance. Starting to notice, be with and accept your feelings as regular visitors is part of this process. Developing your awareness of your feelings and your bodily responses is empowering, and helps you begin to regulate. Therapy can support you in this process and feelings can become part of who you are, rather than being feared, avoided or suppressed.