Staying present when strong emotions trouble you
Clients often come to therapy wanting to find peace when experiencing strong emotions. Anger, sadness, guilt, grief; many different emotions can intrude on every day experience. These feelings can be hard to bear, particularly when they are persistent.
Therapy is designed to help you express and explore what you are experiencing, and can be very helpful. In the meantime, it is beneficial to have ways of lessening the impact of your emotions on your day to day life. Here are five tools to help you stay in the here and now when strong emotions threaten to swamp you:
1. Focus on your breathing.
The breath is always there, flowing in and out continuously, whatever else is happening. Taking a few moments to just notice it, without trying to change or control it, can begin to ground you in your body and give you relief from the intensity of your feelings.
The mind and the body are not separate, they are two sides of the same coin. Move your body, move your mind. Having a stretch, getting up and walking about and even changing your posture can all create a shift in your awareness, lessening the grip of what you were experiencing before you moved.
3. Look up.
When we experience strong emotions we are often looking down, as if into our bodies. This can have the effect of intensifying what we experience. Looking above our normal eye level, away from the body, has the reverse effect. It can lessen the depth of the emotion and give us a little relief.
4. Be aware of your surroundings.
Taking a few moments to be aware of where you are can help lessen the intensity of your inner experience. Identify something you can hear, and spend a moment or two really listening to the quality of the sound. Then, choose something you can see, and go and closely study it. Finally, choose something you can pick up and feel, and take a few moments to study its texture, weight, and shape. You can keep going round something to hear, see and feel until you begin to feel calmer.
5. Give yourself an unusual experience.
Strong sensory experiences can help to bring us back to now when we have become overwhelmed. A strong scent, a powerful taste, or a compelling sound are all ways to engage your senses and shift your attention. Perhaps an essential oil that you like, or a fisherman's friend or extra-strong mint would do the trick, pick something that is pleasurable for you.
These tools can help you in the moment when you want to move your attention and be present. In the longer term, finding the right support to help you release emotions and move on can be useful. If you are struggling with enduring emotions or repeating patterns perhaps the time is right for you to connect with a therapist.
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