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  • Fe Robinson

Coping with big feelings

I was asked recently for some tips about coping when your feelings feel too big to manage. Thankfully, there are so many ways to influence how you feel, and I have plenty to offer. Here are my top 10...starting simple.and building up.

1. Look up and keep looking up for a few moments. This will lessen the intensity of your emotion.

2. Breathe slowly, with long out-breaths to help your nervous system calm down. This activates your vagal break, assisting you to move into ventral vagal regulation.

3. Physically soothe yourself. You might use slow tapping (one tap a second) on alternate sides of your body, or firm strokes down your arms from the shoulder to your fingertips, or giving yourself a containing hug by placing your right hand on your side where your heart is, and your left hand on your right shoulder...pick what works for you.

4. Get out in nature. Breathing in the air, listening to the birds, having your feet on the grass, seeing plants and trees, and being near water are all great ways to sense your connection to the rest of the natural world. Gardening has a similar effect, as does nurturing pets.

5. Bring to mind a powerful memory of a resourceful state. As you do so, notice what you see, hear, smell, taste (if relevant) and feel. The more senses you engage the better. When we vividly recall an experience our physiology will be the same as that we experienced at the time. You want confidence? Relive a confident moment. Calm? Go there in your mind and your body will follow.

6. Imagine a container in your mind's eye that is strong, and secure. It can be any kind of container so long as it can be locked and things will be safe inside. Imagine it vividly, is it a treasure chest, a trunk, a tupperware pot, a shipping container or something else? Make it your own. When you have a big feeling you want to distance from, place it inside the container, shut the container and lock it, and then move it to a location where it is not in your way, for example behind you, or off to the side, or a long distance away.

5. Imagine a flow of emotion through you. This helps you to sense emotion as ever changing, noticing it does not stay the same, even when you feel stuck. Some metaphors that might help are to imagine a waterfall flowing through you, or your legs or torso as a tree trunk, with the tree roots gently pulling out what is not needed and depositing it back into the ground.

6. Another way of imaging flow is to do an exercise called light streaming. Sitting comfortably and calmly, imagine a gentle beam of white or golden light flowing into you through the crown of your head. Imagine it filling your whole body, from your toes right up to the top of your head with energy, clear, bright, clean energy. Imagine it filling all the spaces within you, and as it does, imagine any blocked or difficult energy being loosened and released. You might even imagine it being moved up into the sun to be warmed and recycled.

7. Imagine a 'second skin'. This technique is a way of giving yourself some distance when you are feeling overwhelmed or under threat. You imagine that around your body, a small distance away, you have a second skin, an energetic skin. You can make this the colour, texture, temperature etc that suits you. It is a permeable membrane that you can let things through, and use to keep things out. You can imagine things you do not want to let in, like insults, bouncing off the second skin, maintaining your energy inside the skin in tact. This is a good way of letting yourself know that you get to decide what is true for you, and others are separate and have their own sense of reality.

9. Call on an internal mentor. This is a simple idea of imaging what someone you trust would say if they were with you. It might be a good friend, a loved one, or even an idealised parent, public figure or movie character. You can pick anyone who might have a perspective you need, and let yourself know what they would say if they were with you. It’s amazing what we are aware of when we let ourselves be open to our own wisdom.

10. Take multiple perspectives. Finally, you can change your state by bringing more information into your awareness. See, hear and feel a situation from your own perspective. Then, physically move into a space that represents another person who is involved. If you see it through their eyes, looking back on yourself, what do you notice from here? Finally, take another position that looks on to both you and the other. As a fly on the wall, what is apparent about the people, and their relationship from here? Taking multiple perspectives helps to lessen the grip of our own stuck position, and this can be helpful in managing big feelings. In a wider frame, they are more ably held.

These are all things you can do for yourself. Remember though, you can also call on the support you have in your life, those who love you, your friends and colleagues. Always remember there are professionals here to help too, reach out to your GP, local primary care mental health service, or a private psychotherapist if you want more support.


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