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Emotionally Overwhelmed

These are frightening and difficult times. There is no clear sense of “forward.” The spotlight on the violence and horrors of racial injustice and bigotry we are experiencing now — along with all the ongoing unknowns of COVID-19 and states reopening — heightens feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. How do we manage each day?

Fears about reopening is pervasive among my clients, especially those with chronic illness. Fear about the world at large is pervasive, especially among my clients of color. These fears contribute to a depression and malaise which is hard to shift. An article in The Washington Post highlights new Census Bureau data that indicates that 34 out of every 100 Americans are showing signs of depression, anxiety, or both, which is a significant increase from before the pandemic.

It becomes imperative that we find ways to calm and relax in the midst of so much uncertainty. Our hyperarousal states of fear and anxiety only further create tension and strengthen disease in all its forms.

Mental hygiene — the work of clearing your mind and emotions — allows you to function in a more open and responsive way to all that needs your attention and care.

I find myself turning to the work of meditation teacher and psychologist Tara Brach and an exercise from her new book Radical Compassion for a simple yet effective way to release some of my emotional states.

She titles this practice R.A.I.N. and the four steps are as follows:

1. Recognize

We run through our days in what Brach calls a “trance,” which means that we aren’t aware of all the feelings running through us. We numb out, separate ourselves from any feeling states or simply ignore what is happening in our emotions. This is a breeding ground for physical and emotional inflammation. These unrealized feelings can tip us into anxiety and depression.

In recognizing we take a moment to say: What am I feeling here? I just yelled at the dog/my child/the person on the phone. What’s going on with me?

2. Allow

When we name and see what we’re feeling, we often rush to judgment. Oh, I’m angry. I don’t like that in me; I want to stop it. We find we’re afraid or sad. Our feelings can elicit self-judgments of being bad or out of control.

The work in this second step is to simply allow what we are feeling to be present: not to change it or shut it down.

3. Investigate

When we give our feelings room to be, we can then become curious. We can investigate what is prompting the feeling and wonder about it.

We may find that our fear comes from the article we read over breakfast that was simmering in the back of our minds, and we can let it go. Anger may be rooted in the sadness we feel about the world events or our own limitations.

We may realize as we investigate that we are feeling an extra level of pain today, but we are so used to overriding it that we hadn’t let ourselves notice.

4. Nurture

When we recognize and name, allow space, and then investigate, we are befriending ourselves and calming our nervous systems. This is a nurturing stance toward ourselves. We can breathe deeply for a few moments or put our hand on our hearts and allow the warmth of that comfort.

We can nurture ourselves by smiling at our reflection in the mirror or writing a page in our journal. The nurture is the acceptance and affirmation of who we are, an inner sense of saying to yourself, “I’m ok.” You will begin to feel a shift or a settling of your mind and heart, and a relaxing in the body.

This is a practice you can do in a few minutes or take an extended period of time to really explore. But its benefit is that it can help us move from that frozen state into a more open and flowing energy. And that can help heal you and allow you to better cope with everything going on in the world.

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