Well, sh*t seems to be getting real out there.
There’s nothing like slowing down to make you aware of all the feelings. Many of us can feel them creeping up: a sense of grief for past losses, anxiety, loneliness, disappointment with areas of your life. Maybe you’re feeling feelings sourced in this situation, and/or maybe this situation is revealing feelings you already had; all the feelings you’ve been trying to outrun
Here are few things to keep in mind as you navigate emotions in a time of Coronavirus:
Spot the Symptoms
Healthy emotional regulation begins with being able to notice and name your emotions, so grab your handy dandy feelings list and maybe just set a few check-in times with yourself or your people each day.
Keep in mind that sometimes our feelings can go camouflage. Fear can play out in anger. Anger can play out in shame. Sometimes, they go all the way underground and come out in physical symptoms. Maybe you’re not sleeping, or maybe you’re noticing a strange symptom in your body.
This is where we make space for feelings without dismissing, suppressing, belittling or…trying to gospel our way out of ’em.
“Stay strong.” “It’s all going to be okay.” “Don’t think about it.” We’ve all heard these mantras. Christians aren’t the only ones who use narratives to repress emotions. But, when you think God is telling you not to feel, it does add a nice level of shame around the emotions you experience, which makes them almost impossible to navigate in a healthy way. (As a friend pondered to me last week: why do we frame ‘do not be afraid’ as if it is a command and not a comfort?)
Making space for emotions means accepting that they’re there and receiving them as a valid source of information about how you feel about things that are happening.
When the emotions come, be gentle. Be tender. And try some of these things:
- Observe them. Take note of what your emotions feel like in your body; what thoughts accompany your emotions. This helps create a little working distance between you and your feelings that can help you grasp that this is how you feel, not who you are.
- Name them. Try to identify the emotion under the emotions. If you can’t find the right word for the feeling, think of a word picture, (e.g. “I feel as if there is a boulder on my shoulders.”)
- Breathing exercises
- Meditation or soothing prayer
- Repetitive or relaxing tasks: do a puzzle, or draw or take a bath,
Overall: get in your body. Try to become mindful of physical sensations. Notice what you can smell, see, taste, what the fabric of your shirt feels like against your skin.
I had a mini panic last night about my birthday happening over a google hangout due to this virus. It sounded so depressing to be alone on my birthday. But you know what – I was alone LAST YEAR on my birthday. You know why? I chose to fly to Montana and sit in a cabin all alone.
Isn’t it strange how the same experience can be filled with joy or pain based on its context?
Reappraisal is not about changing or controlling or suppressing a feeling we don’t like. It’s about lovingly shepherding an experience into a broader context.
Instead of escaping feelings or being consumed by them, we are able to endure them with hope. This is where our truth-telling comes in – not as a means to repress feelings, but as a means to shepherd them.
Repression and reappraisal are so different. Repression might sound like: “I’m anxious for my mom’s health…but I am just trusting God.”
Christians – with a slight fear of making things worse, can I ask what that even means? Because I’m a little nervous you mean – “I’m not going to think about it and just trust God to keep her safe.” And besides the obvious issues with that – (that God never promised to keep her safe, and that lots of moms are going to get sick) – there’s the research-backed reality that this actually doesn’t help your emotions anyway. Your brain knows what your non-christian friends know: that doesn’t actually make sense. While your feelings may go underground, you are not moving towards health.
Reappraisal is not about trying to weigh your fears against truth (as if they are opposed) or cover your feelings with a Jesus band-aid. It’s about surrounding your pain with a context of comforting truth.
- Validate that the emotions make sense (either because of past or present experiences)
- Try some alternative framing options
- Pay attention to evidence that supports those alternative options
- Provide comfort that both validates your experience and gives you hope
“I’m anxious for my mom’s health and I don’t think I can cope” –>
(1) and it makes sense I feel that way because that sounds really hard and it’s real, (not to mention I have always had that deep fear that I can’t survive hard things) –>
(2) but maybe it’s not that I can’t cope. Maybe it’s that no one would be able to cope with future or potential pain that isn’t here yet. Maybe it’s that the grace I have today is to enable me to endure today’s troubles. –>
(3) cue paying attention to moments where you’ve coped with the present. Like this one! Today’s troubles include this anxiety. And I am coping with that. I’m still breathing! –>
(4) God is giving me the grace to endure (not escape) this fear of the unknown and if He’s giving me that today, maybe I can count on Him for it tomorrow. Whatever comes might not be easy, but He’ll be with me.
“I’m lonely and I feel like no one cares about me” –>
(1) and it makes sense I feel that way because I’m not made to be alone and this isolation is coming at a time when I haven’t connected with a friend in a while (not to mention that thing that went down in junior high that made me feel like no one loves me) –>
(2) but maybe it’s not that no one loves me. Maybe it’s because I’m in this really weird moment in history that piggy-backed on a really busy season for my friends at work –>
(3) cue paying attention to moments where your friends have shown love; cue paying attention to the ways they’ve expressed to you they’re busy –>
(4) and while God doesn’t call this isolation good (and in fact, my dislike of this is a sign of my aligning with what He says about the situation), maybe He can use it to give me something really special in our relationship.
- Get help. Now is the time to reach out to your therapists/counselor. We’ll see you remotely. I promise. Or, just reach out to a friend. Ask for a google hangout to talk about what feelings you’re both experiencing.
- Take breaks from media/news. Watch something that feels like ‘normal life’ – a makeup tutorial or read that blog you bookmarked a month ago. I know anxiety sings the song over you that if you could just get more information, you’d be safe. But it doesn’t work. Because you don’t want more information, you want more control. Which leads to:
- Take control. You’re a creature who was given dominion. God did entrust you with control over some things. So, find the places you do have control and exercise it:
- Choose to check the news rather than just accidentally or habitually scrolling to it. Say it outloud if you need to. “Do I want to check the news? I’m free to. Or not to. What do I choose?
- Choose not to check the news. Make sure you set boundaries. Prove to your brain that you are in control of its inputs and that you will steward it well by giving it rest when the time is right.
- Take physical action – when you feel out of control, go for a run, or pray with a physical ritual: walking or kneeling.
- Make a plan for your day. Email a bunch of friends and set a google hangout date. A friend of mine is doing virtual happy hours. Block off time in your evening to play a game if you’re with family, or journal through something specific. Put it in the cal. Help your brain feel like it has choices here.
Hope this helps. As you make a million huge choices in the next weeks for your physical health and the physical health of those you love, consider fighting the inconvenience or awkwardness of caring for one another’s emotional health as well.