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  • Ruth Heal

Emotional Reaction When Feeling Vulnerable

Posted on Facebook by a friend age 25.

"Last week I stained my favorite sweater with a bleach cleaner. Once I realized it was stained, it was too late, and I just melted down. Logically, it really wasn’t about the sweater, it was probably MORE about getting furloughed and living at home again and life being completely different in every aspect and not knowing if or when it might return to normal, but reader... at the time, it sure did feel like it was about the sweater. I got some fabric pens and did my best and now I can laugh at my 'Limited Edition Coronavirus Sweater That Made Me Cry', but in the moment, it did kinda feel like my world was falling apart because of a sweater."

Last week I saw my friend's post on Facebook and thought it described very well what so many of us are going through during this 'stay-at-home' time. Life is nothing like we expected it to be, we may with our families all the time or we may be alone. We have a tremendous amount of uncertainty in what the future looks like, and there is a lot of fear about the disease COVID-19 too. We feel very vulnerable in uncertain times, and our fears are exposed and very real.

This is a situation in which a small issue can push us over the edge. It is as though we tried to push just one more thing into a full closet, and everything else comes tumbling out into a huge heap on the floor. Our emotional response is just like that, everything about everything, not just the immediate issue. All the fear, grief and loss we are already feeling are added to the emotions about the immediate issue and it is overwhelming. This is normal, so being prepared for this kind of seeming over-reaction to a small issue helps us not to become so caught up in the web. This understanding about why this is happening can allow us to be less judgmental of our reaction and emotions.

So how do we come back from here to an even keel, to equanimity? The first thing is to notice when we are upset, and from there we can try to re-engage our rational mind. Noticing the upset consciously is the hardest part of the process. One way that works for me, once I notice the upset, is to notice my breath and my feet on the floor which all help me to return to my body and get out of my head to a certain extent. Then I take some mindful breaths (remember that old advice to take a few breaths before you react - well it works). Once I have a stronger center in the present moment I have access to choices about how I react. This was covered in more detail in the previous blog post.

Taking quiet time allows you to process your emotions. It is good to notice how the upset is felt in the body and not just to be stuck in the story that your mind is creating around the event. Being in the created story has a tendency to increase the emotional reaction and prolong the experience. All emotions are valid and deserve your attention, and to be felt.

I think it is very important to bring compassion toward yourself at this time and in this very unusual situation. We will over-react sometimes because we are only human, if it happens cut yourself some slack. As a reminder take really good care of yourself by eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, practicing some yoga, deep breathing and getting outside in nature. Also, set aside time to do things that you enjoy, such as reading, practicing a craft, making art.

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