Sometimes we feel the need to share how we feel and even revel in our emotions. Other times, we keep them boxed up and put away as much as possible. Both experiences have positive and negative impacts on us and our relationships. Right now, people are experiencing a lot of emotions. Between the threat of COVID-19, being confined and away from people due to sheltering in place, loss of jobs and financial insecurity, and systemic inequality, emotions are up. We are in the middle of the equivalent of an emotional tropical storm and the currents are strong and sometimes can feel like riptides.
So, what do we do? Do we go into the water or not? Do we wade or swim or stay as far up the shore as possible? There is no right answer here. If we choose to go into the emotional waters, we may experience a “washing machine” moment or feel pulled out into deep and dangerous water. Being a strong emotional swimmer would be a must in such conditions or having someone nearby watching as a lifeguard. Yet, even strong swimmers tend to avoid swimming when a hurricane is raging. Like learning to swim, learning to swim in emotions is easier in calm water, or even a pool. Therapy can be a pool for practice so that one can get more ready for the open water of life.
Maybe it feels like now isn’t the time for lots of emotional processing. Maybe it is time to stay on shore. If this is true for you, recognizing that this does not remove emotional processing is important. Waves can be sneaky and still drench you and you can still find yourself in a surprise emotional moment. In fact, this is when we are most surprised by our emotions. For example, one moment you are fine, and the next you are crying or raging because your toothpaste has run out. These surprise emotional waves can be confusing, because they don’t seem in proportion to the experience and are often not really connected to what is going on in the moment. These are the “straw that broke the camel’s back” moments. The straw is small, the other items large.
When an emotional wave hits and it is a surprise, what can you do? Here are eight steps for making these surprise moments less damaging for you and those around you:
Emotions can become overwhelming. We are able to step away from them because sometimes that is the adaptive action to take. Sometimes it is not. Only you know what is best for you. If you decide to go swimming in the swift emotional currents, take a buddy or have a lifeguard nearby. This is a time of emotional hurricanes and we need to be kind to one another. If you experience someone else’s wave, try to assume the best of that person. Hopefully when you have your wave of emotions, that person will do the same in return.