It’s been a tough year for feelings, am I right? Unless you’ve been hiding out in a monastery devoting your waking hours to cultivating inner peace, I’m willing to bet you’ve had a few challenging feelings recently. It can be easy to believe we are ‘broken,’ or there’s something ‘wrong’ with us, so let me start with this reminder:
You are not alone. Overwhelming feelings, albeit uncomfortable, are a pretty standard part of the human experience. You are not broken; you are human.
Feelings come and go and vary in how hard they hit us. No matter where you’re at, you can benefit from a few simple strategies to help ease their passing.
1: I am flawed and unworthy of love
The more we buy into this story, the more we create a reality that reinforces it. Relying on someone else to disprove it is fraught with problems, so let’s turn this around ourselves, shall we?
1. Let’s begin with this crucial reminder: We are all flawed, baby. You don’t see it as clearly in other people because you’re comparing your insides to other people’s outsides. Love does not require perfection.
2. Get specific about what you’re hating on. Are there aspects of yourself you would like to improve or past mistakes you can forgive? Even criminals get parole! Learn from your past and move on.
3. Be your own ultimate lover. Whisper adoring things to yourself. Look in the mirror and say, “You’ve got this sexy face.” Make time for activities you enjoy, and leave yourself love notes. You’re worth it.
2: I can’t stop worrying
Generalized anxiety is a harsh mistress, particularly as she’s hard to pin down. She wrecks your sleep, ruins your concentration, and crashes your immune system. Anxiety is excessive worry about things that may not even happen.
1. Have a relaxation strategy to turn down the physical response a notch, something that is instantly available. Some suggestions: slow deep breathing, self-hypnosis, mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or dancing it out.
2. Pinpoint specifically what you’re worried about. You might find it’s surprisingly minor or incredibly unlikely.
3. Ask yourself: Is there anything I can do to minimize or avoid this outcome? If so, taking action will reduce your anxiety. If there’s nothing you can do, see if there are ways you can reframe it. Stress is not caused by external events as much as our perception of them.
3: I’m not good enough
I once attended a workshop with 400 other mental health professionals where the presenter asked: Who here has a ‘Not Good Enough’ story? Every single hand went up.
1. Gently, ask yourself: What exactly isn’t good enough? It’s hard to argue with a general “I’m not good enough.” On what scale? Compared to what? Make a list of actual things you’d like to improve.
2. Make a realistic action plan. You don’t need to fix everything instantly; just start taking steps. You might hire a tutor, or go for a daily walk. Life is a school and you’re here to learn and grow.
3. Remember, as Dr. Seuss put it: There is no one alive who is youer than you. Instead of comparing yourself to others, work on being just a bit better than you were yesterday. Acknowledge and reward your wins.
4: I feel uncertain about the future
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is certain. If you’re stressed out on thoughts like “How can I be sure my job will remain stable?” or “How can I be sure my partner won’t leave?” you’re suffering from future uncertainty.
1. Reminder: The future is uncertain. Nobody can guarantee your job or relationship will last forever. The first step is recognizing that and letting go of needing a promise.
2. Make a list of times in the past you thought you’d never cope. Notice how you did cope. You may see some positive outcomes now, lessons you learned, or things you can be grateful for.
3. A bird on a branch feels safe, not because it trusts the branch, but because it trusts its wings. Focus on what you can control: building resilience, flexibility, and courage. Practice being curious about the future and whatever it holds.
5: I can’t sleep
Sleep is both a symptom and a cause of mental health problems, meaning it often plays a part in destructive cycles with anxiety, depression, or stress. Sleep is crucial for your wellbeing, so let’s talk about getting enough.
1. Do an honest sleep hygiene assessment: regular sleep schedule, no screens before bed, limiting caffeine and alcohol, silence, darkness, and so forth.
2. If you’re ruminating, promise yourself you’ll take action in the morning, and write it down if you like. Problems are best solved in the daylight, after a good night’s sleep. Make sure you keep this promise in the morning!
3. Use guided meditations or self-hypnosis. Even if they don’t put you to sleep, you’re giving your body a chance to rest and heal. Let go of sleep as a goal you can ‘fail’ at and just enjoy the rest you get.
6: I feel isolated or lonely
Humans are social creatures; we need connection, support, and love. We thrive when we feel we ‘belong’ somewhere. In an individualistic culture, we’re more likely to feel lonely.
1. Honestly evaluate your relationships. Do your friends encourage and lift you up? Who can you rely on in challenging times? One or two supportive friends beats a busload of flaky or dismissive ones.
2. Take time to nurture positive relationships. Connect with those friends regularly, show your appreciation, support them, and build them up. Focus on what value you can bring rather than what you want to receive.
3. If you don’t have enough positive relationships, it’s time to find some. There are great people everywhere, but they won’t magically appear on your doorstep! Consider joining local clubs or classes or like-minded communities that reflect your values or interests.
7: I have no motivation
Low motivation has many causes, and having a few low-mo days is nothing to panic about. If it becomes your default state, you’ll probably be wanting that drive back.
1. Ask the questions. Are you living life authentically? If your job is boring, or you hate jogging, it will be hard to do those things. It might be time to make some changes.
2. Setting small goals and achieving them gets your motivation/reward brain circuitry fired up, which will feel good and drive you towards more goals. If you’re doing things that constantly activate your reward circuitry – like computer games, social media, or high-sugar treats – you may be short-circuiting your motivation systems. Instead, use those activities as rewards.
3. Fill your day with things to look forward to. Buy great coffee so you’ll want to get up. Plan lunch with a friend, go dancing instead of jogging, and blast your favorite tunes while you scrub the oven.
8: I’m so #$%*& angry I can’t let go
Anger is a valid and healthy emotion. It alerts you when you feel violated or threatened and prepares you to defend yourself. These days, it’s unlikely you need to fight a large club-wielding Neanderthal who wants to steal your woman, but evolution is a slow process.
1. Don’t suppress or deny anger; it will only leak out in unwanted ways. I imagine Anger as a back-seat passenger. He lets me know something is wrong, and I hear him, but I never let him drive.
2. First, find a way to regulate and release tension. Slow deep breaths, count to 10, dance it out – whatever works for you. Notice if you’re writing stories in your head that make it worse.
3. Once the charge has subsided, decide whether to take action or let it go. The action might be a calm conversation or email where you express your needs or boundaries. Remember, holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
9: I am completely overwhelmed and can’t cope
In a world where busy is glorified, overwhelm is certain. Impending deadlines, unreasonable workloads, and never-ending dirty dishes are likely to send you into meltdown where you get nothing done at all.
1. Take a long, deep breath, then write everything down. Trust me, this is time well spent. Getting your to-do list out of your head and onto paper frees up your brain for problem-solving.
2. What needs to be done, by you, today? What can you say no to? What can be delegated or postponed? Who can you ask for help? Break down crucial items into manageable chunks and focus on one task at a time.
3. Take breaks. For five minutes every hour, jump around, go for a quick walk, or make a cup of tea. Breaks will improve your efficiency and keep you sane.
10: I feel lost and have no idea what I’m doing
Everyone feels this way sometimes. Nobody has lived your life before you and left signposts, and we’re all basically winging it. The problem is when this feeling leaves you stuck in indecision.
1. Acknowledge that feeling lost is fine. There’s no one true path you need to magically find. You don’t need to make perfect decisions, any old decision will do! And if it doesn’t work out, well, you need to start driving before you can do a U-turn.
2. Understand what your core values are. Your values will act as a roadmap to help you decide what pathways will feel meaningful and rewarding. What lights you up, and where can you find it?
3. Take one small step, any step, in any direction. If you can’t choose, get someone else to choose for you. Apply for a job, book a holiday, write a blog, or paint a portrait of your goldfish. Who knows where it will lead? And isn’t that exciting?
Shitty feelings are a part of life, and we all get them. The trick is to let them be visitors, accept their gifts, and let them go. Don’t set up the guest room for an indefinite stay! If yours won’t leave when you ask them to, I highly recommend seeing a therapist. That’s their job, after all, and two heads are better than one.