So Many Emotions

THE NEW NORMAL
2020-04-12

Hello fellow humans! It seems we are transitioning into the new normal amid a global pandemic, one that is likely to stick around for a while and we are creating new rhythms and routines amongst all the weirdness. 

SO MANY EMOTIONS

Some people have been experiencing unexpected emotions surfacing.
LOSS: this feeling is understandable—we have all lost a great deal in this pandemic and some have even lost loved ones. We may be ANXIOUS and WORRIED about ourselves and our friends and families. We could be DISCOMBOBULATED and FRUSTRATED by the changes. We may be LONELY for human touch or OVERWHELMED by the sudden 24/7-life with family or roommates.  

For some, there may be the days of ENNUI (restless boredom) and ACEDIA (spiritual malaise or existential doldrums). I am also hearing from clients and friends about DEEP GRIEF unrelated to the current situation and RESENTMENT. Understandably, it can be unsettling or exhausting to deal with this.

As the above title states, emotions are burbling up to the surface, so many of them.  Maybe it’s because have more time to think, less busyness to distract us. Or maybe it’s because we have lost our typical markers for time and structures. What day is it? What month? What’s there to do?

When both our minds and bodies are less active, and we are less focused on our day-to-day scramble, the brain is more likely to consider this a good time to process stuff. We would probably disagree; this seems like the worst time with everything else we are trying to deal with. But if your amygdala has hijacked your thinking patterns, you are not alone and you are not at its mercy. 

In this newsletter, I’m would like to suggest an exercise using expressive arts and mindfulness meditation. It might help with any darker emotions that are pestering you, ones that you would like to process and resolve. Examples: RESENTMENT, old WOUNDS and emotions like SHAME or LOW SELF-ESTEEM. To give you an example of how this might work, I’ll discuss a common one right now—resentment—and outline an expressive arts therapy tool you might find helpful.

RESENTMENT 

I describe resentment as a low-grade anger simmering away in the back of our mind.  Its cause can be varied but it is typically related to issues around justice and personal ethics.  Someone or some system has been treating us unfairly, disrespectfully, and/or dismissively for some length of time. Every new example or re-hashing of the memory when someone did this or said that is faithfully collected and put into a metaphorical pot that’s left on the heat to simmer. 

Resentment allows us to stew in the juices of our outrage and affront and stir the troubling conversation or experience over and over until it develops into a thick, habitual response. Our resentment can be covered up but it is also easily triggered into big bursts of emotional energy. The emotion is only the lid on the burbling pot, although that’s typically what we pay the most attention to. 

So, what do we do with the sudden bursts of defensive posturing or speech, eye-rolling contempt, or tears of frustration? I’d like to suggest a way to process this in a way that respects your pain but allows you to move through it into a more peacable, less agitated, state. 

Disclaimer: this exercise is meant to be helpful for working through an emotion like resentment. It is not meant to deal with or pass by actions against you that are unsafe or abusive. As always, never undertake any exercise that feels wrong or distressing to you.

Resentment-Be-Gone Exercise (10 minutes; repeated)
Mindfulness Meditation + Expressive Art Therapy

Goal: to be able to respect and process chronic low-grade, in-the-background emotions; to be able to clear our minds from emotions that have served their purpose but keep lingering in unhelpful or unhealthy ways.

Materials needed:

  • Glass jar or other transparent container or box
  • Strips of paper; something to make marks with
  • Quiet place 

Exercise:

  • Quiet your nervous system: Sit or lay down somewhere private and take a few moments (as much time as you need) to quiet your system.
  • Breathe deeply: use your belly and not your chest to inhale and exhale.
  • Bring the troubling emotion/memory to mind: Think about the emotion or situation that’s persists and is bothering you. 
  • Observe it and be curious: No evaluation, judgment, defensiveness or rehearsing wrongs. You are allowing only for curiosity, noticing, and awareness at this point. 
    • The difference between these two states is like the difference between a bird flying over your head versus a bird building a nest in your hair.  You are trying to keep the emotion in the fly-by category—noticing it but not ‘indulging’ it.
  • Notice what you are feeling in your mind and body. Do a body scan if that’s helpful.
  • Continue to breathe deeply
    • No shallow breathing as this indicates you’re in limbic system mode. If your breathing is coming from your chest or is uneven, return your focus to your breathing until it is regular and deep again.
  • Process the emotion using deep breathing. Sit with pain, think about it lightly, but don’t let it boss you around. Some emotions may come on very strong; your job is to control them through your breathing. Breathe it in and breathe it out. Emotions come and they go. Try to notice them and reflect with gentleness and compassion.
  • Allow the emotion to wax and wane, to pass. Let the feelings go after you have identified and experienced them. Visualize them riding waves or clouds moving across the sky. 
    • Sitting too long with darker emotions can lead to self-pity or increased negativity, not lowered emotional pain so be careful with this part of the exercise. If the feelings get too big, stand up and move around or distract yourself.
  • Breathe. After an emotional wave has crested and dropped away, continue to breathe deeply to return your nervous system to calm. 
  • Write about your process on a small piece of paper. Write a few sentences about what has been processed and what you would like to be rid of.  You could also draw the emotion or refer to any kind of healing you experienced or any softening of the emotion. 
  • Dignify and respect your emotion. Place the paper in the jar. As you do, thank it for telling you that something was wrong or out of order. Appreciate that it served a purpose.
  • Put the emotion away. Say out loud something like “I am putting this away as of today; I am letting it go. This last action is to remind you of the “evidence” of what has just happened. 
    • If you are later tempted to ruminate on the same offence or emotion, you can tell yourself firmly that you have processed the pain and there is nothing left to review and rehash. 
  • But…if the same thought or memory comes to mind over and over again, more emotional processing may be required. If this happens, you could complete the exercise again.  
  • Once the jar is full, or at any time, you can burn the papers or get rid of them some other way. This can be a great symbolic act, indicating how you are taking care of your emotional health.

Peace to you and your household,
Shari Van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC

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