During a crisis, many people feel overwhelmed and out of control because of their emotions. We are flooded with primarily negative emotions that make us feel like we are drowning.
It is important to remember that your emotions don’t have to control you, you can control and manage your emotions. They are within your power. You can use your brain to control the way you feel. When you begin to accept and believe this, it empowers you to start feeling better. If the emotions you are feeling are based on the aspects of your situation that you can’t control you are giving your control and power away. Circumstances do not get to control how you feel unless you let them.
We don’t want to suppress, bury, or ignore emotions. If we do, they tend to build up pressure and explode later on and we lose control of ourselves.
Notice and Acknowledge Your Emotions
Instead, it is important to notice and acknowledge your emotions. Whatever feelings you are feeling are real, they are valid, and there is nothing wrong with them. You have full permission to feel whatever emotions are coming up for you in this current situation. Don’t shame or beat yourself up and don’t compare your emotional experience with someone else’s. Everyone is experiencing this situation differently. We aren’t playing Emotional Olympics. You get to feel what you are feeling and it is true and real.
Recognize Your Power Over Your Emotions
With that said, remember that you also have power here. You can control your emotions and therefore change the way you feel.
Ruminating over negative emotions in which you feel powerless is not helpful. Feeling anxiety, fear, worry, anger, and frustration over things you cannot change does not serve anyone.
There are times when negative emotions are helpful. When we can use them to motivate us into good decisions. When we feel fear and avoid continuing in the path of a lion, that is helpful. But when we are buried in anxiety about things we can’t control, it is not helpful. What may be helpful is to focus instead on what we can control and on the good parts of our experience.
Are Your Emotions Serving You?
Acknowledge your emotions, and as I’ve talked about before, consider if they are serving you or not. If your emotions are not helping you to take steps to improve your situation in ways that you have control, then let’s stop ruminating on those emotions and focus on better things.
Change Your Thoughts to Change Your Emotions
One of my favorite Bible verses says “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8).
God knows that ruminating and dwelling on negative things we can’t control doesn’t serve us. Instead, he invites us to focus on things we can change. Things that are good.
When you notice yourself in a thought spiral, dwelling and ruminating on the negative, take some time to pause. Take some deep breaths, and purposely choose something good and lovely to focus on instead. Go find some funny cat videos or silly memes if humor is your thing. Go outside and look for something beautiful in nature. Take a minute to talk about silly jokes with your kids. Shift your mindset to looking at what is still good. There is still plenty of good to focus on.
There are also a few distancing techniques from the world of psychology that can be helpful in regulating our emotions. Just like we practice social distancing, we can also distance ourselves from negative emotions.
Psychological Distancing for Managing Emotions
Psychological distancing is the distance you feel when your friend tells you about a situation they are going through. You can feel empathy for them and their situation, but you don’t actually feel their pain or their experience because you are distant from the situation. You aren’t in the situation, so you have the psychological distance to see things from a different perspective.
It can be helpful to find someone who can provide this psychological distance with us when we are going through a crisis because our friends are able to provide some unbiased advice and support since they are not in the middle of the situation. Find a friend, counselor, or coach who can listen to you and hold space to help support you in challenging times.
Temporal Distancing for Managing Emotions
Temporal distancing is another helpful strategy. This is where we get to play some mental time travel and remember that now is not permanent. We will overcome this. We have to remember that our world, our species has faced global crises before. We’ve been through global pandemics and we’ve survived and continued on. It may not have happened in our lifetimes, but it has happened.
Temporal distancing gives us the chance to imagine a better future. Use your brain to remember that this too shall pass and focus on the hope you can find in that. Temporal distancing is when you use your mind to imagine a brighter, better future after the crisis has passed.
Questions to Help With Managing Emotions in a Crisis
Take some time to get out a pen and paper and journal through the following questions to help you with managing your emotions in the midst of a crisis.
- What emotions are coming up for you during this time?
- Make a list of 10 things that are good and true and pleasing and lovely that you can meditate on when you find yourself ruminating on negative thoughts and emotions.
- What friend, counselor, or coach you can talk to when you are having a hard time distancing yourself from your overwhelming emotions?
- Write out your best hopes and brightest vision for our better future. When this is all over, what do you dream for our world and for your life? Play some mental time travel and create a beautiful vision of hope.