Why are my emotions all over the place right now?
As human beings, our primary aim is to survive as individuals and as a race. We all have a biological mechanism to keep us safe, known as the fight or flight response.
It works brilliantly at keeping us physically safe in physical situations, such as in a fire or a car accident. We will quickly remove ourselves from the situation. We flee from it so that we don't face any further harm. However, many of the threats faced today are psychological. They can be the potential of not getting food at the shop this week or being made redundant from our work or fearing for the health of ourselves or others. These psychological threats can be more long term and cause more chronic stress.
They all have their roots in the same cause though; the need to survive. With no money, food, shelter, or tribe, we may face the very real possibility of being extinguished as an individual, or as a race.
So, the threat we are all facing on a day to day basis right now from Covid19 is both physical and psychological. It causes acute spikes in anxiety and an underlying heightened stress response. This is why the emotions are all feeling so complex and changeable right now.
At first, we had the spike of anxiety when the virus was first reported and we get spikes every time we hear news of changes, but then there's a more subtle underlying unease.
Then many people are experiencing a grief response at the moment as well. During lockdown especially, there's been a lot of loss:
· Loss of freedom.
· Loss of life as they knew it.
· Loss of connection with others.
· A potential loss of an imagined, or planned, future.
· Loss of routine.
· Loss of purpose.
· Loss of identity.
· Loss of life (actual and potential, of those near and far).
With this loss comes the huge grief and with grief comes anger. Anger being the opposite of the anxiety and the fight or flight response.
So, the anger is showing up as indignation at the government for acting so slow, or for encouraging schools to reopen. Or at neighbours for still going out and not social distancing. Or at our partners for anything that doesn't fit the way we see things right now (or is that just me?).
Grief affects how we regulate our emotions as well.
It literally changes how we process our daily experiences.
If you have suffered any loss, please don’t be hard on yourself. Grief is complex. It can feel overwhelming and all-encompassing. It can take time. You may need to spend some time to reflect before you are able to move on. How ever long it takes, that’s how long it takes. Make sure you look after yourself in this process. Eat well, rest, accept support, take time in nature, and allow whatever emotions to surface. Grief will magnify and mess with your emotions. Let them be what they are, trying to suppress them will only store them for later. When you feel ready to move on, do so at your pace.
All strong emotions cause difficulty with concentration and planning and memory. This will all add to the frustration and potential self-admonishing that we all experience when we feel that we're underperforming or not good enough. Then if we’ve been struggling to keep working from home whilst home-schooling the kids, we’re likely to fall back into those old thought patterns even easier. These thoughts can then cause us to feel low and that will start to affect our motivation on a day to day basis. It becomes another downward spiral.
So, the potential for our emotions to fluctuate is huge. The range and depth of emotions are huge, and the consequences of those emotions can be huge too. So, what can we do to best cope with this right now?
We are only human, and we are going to have emotions. They are natural. Remember that we can't control everything though. We can only control us. We can’t control anything outside of us.
So let’s try to let go of what we can't control.
· We can’t control whether the children are going to be quiet whilst you’re on that conference call tomorrow.
· We can't control whether the neighbours are going out or not.
· We can't control what the government does.
· We can’t control other people’s opinions and behaviours.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies your power to choose your response. In those responses lie your growth and your freedom.
Viktor Frankl - Man’s Search for Meaning
If we take a breath and then respond wisely to those emotions, we can control what we do.
That’s where our power is.
· Can you still plan your days?
· Can you still contact friends and family?
· Can you still exercise?
· Can you still have a choice in what you eat?
· Can you choose how you spend your time?
· Can you still, and are you allowing yourself, to have fun?
And if the children start fighting whilst you’re on that conference call, consider how you might react. Now instead when you notice them fighting, take a breath, then choose how to respond wisely. You are more likely to excuse yourself for a minute to deal with them if you have taken a moment to compose yourself, than if you were to react spontaneously.
Take a Moment to Take Your Power!
If you would like some support to implement any of these suggestions, you can contact me via the website evolve-psychotherapy.co.uk
With hope and healing