I find myself emotionally overwhelmed.
It’s not the first time, but rather than go into the reasons why, I decided to find out what it really means to be emotional and how you then get to the point of overwhelm as well as what to do to let go and free myself from this overwhelm of emotions. So I started out by looking at what ‘Emotions’ and ‘Feelings’ are to help me understand why I become overwhelmed.
Emotions and feelings are words used interchangeably to express more or less the same thing. Feelings or emotions can be defined as how something or someone makes us feel. However, as I have learned over the years, they have some distinct differences.
Emotions are physical and instinctive. Emotions generally prompt the body to react to some kind of stimulus: threats, rewards etc. Emotional reactions to these stimuli are generally the same amongst people although the reaction may vary slightly depending on the individual or the circumstances.
While emotions are associated with bodily reactions to stimuli, feelings are sparked by emotions and coloured by our own personal experiences,beliefs, memories and thoughts linked to that particular emotion. In other words, a feeling is the product of your brain’s perception of an emotion and assigning meaning to it.
So emotions and feelings go hand in hand. But how does this explain or even help my feelings of emotional overwhelm? Perhaps there are too many factors, circumstances or stimuli all at once.
In life, I find that we tend to react first emotionally to a given situation, then rationally. However, we have an obligation to learn how to react rationally in spite of how we feel. I know for me that can be difficult. I find that feelings can be destructive (I become defensive, angry and irrational) and misleading. Therefore, I think that my goal is to learn to act according to the right path forward (see the truth of the situation), and not just according to how I feel.
Easier said than done. Feelings are a part of life. How we allow them to control us or not, is the key to a happier life.
A few years ago, I attended a course in mediation. During this course we talked about feelings and how we tend to hold on to feelings rather than seeing them for what they are: responses to a circumstance or situation at each point in time. Feelings can be fleeting and ever changing, and it’s good to acknowledge them for what they are, but even more important to let them go again and not allow them to control us.
I often find myself talking to my children about their feelings. What was the best part of their day? What made them happy today? What was challenging for them? How did those things make them feel?
When I am angry by the actions of one of my children, I find it important to let them know that it is okay for me to feel angry; I will then talk about what happened rationally, let it go, and move forward. Holding on to that anger or taking it out on someone else is not okay, however, so learning to express it in a way that is constructive and useful is important.
In this way, I can let go of the emotions that are harmful to myself and those around me and clear a pathway to receive love from the Lord. Receiving feelings that are nurturing, useful, inspiring, positive and freeing.
I have to remind myself that the Lord is there for us every minute of every day, waiting to give us useful insights and love. However, to feel his love, we need to clear away the confusion and negativity surrounding us from our emotional overwhelm.
So what did I do in my moment of emotional overwhelm? I wrote an email to one of my best friends telling her all about my current emotional crisis. I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. Then, feeling less overwhelmed than before I could rationally focus on what needed to be done in my day and plan for the future.
There are also moments in my life with my children where I come home to find that they have music on full blast, they are chasing each other around the house with nerf guns in a ‘nerf war’ and have all but upturned my entire lounge to build fortresses and bases to shield themselves from the volley of nerf bullets which I now see on the floor. My impulse or overriding emotion at that point is to turn off the music, stop them running around, make them all clean up right away and then to vent the frustration and exasperation I feel at this ‘loss of control’ through shouting at them.
Sometimes, I need to remind myself that they are children. And part of having children is putting up with a certain amount of noise and chaos because for them it was ‘fun’. I have to remind myself that nothing bad was happening. The screams were screams of happiness and joy. My emotional reaction was nothing to do with them. It had everything to do with how I was feeling about life at that point in time: my emotional baggage and overwhelm.
If I can learn to react rationally rather than emotionally (take a deep breath, count to 20, pray to the Lord for strength), I know that I will treat my children differently. But I can only do this if I start to pay attention to and take care of my emotions and feelings at each point in my day.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. “ Lao Tsu from the “Tao Te Ching”, chapter 64
In other words, even the longest and most difficult ventures (like learning to work with my emotions and behave rationally) have a starting point. It’s important to take a deep breath, pray and then do one thing at a time to achieve your goal. Acknowledge how you feel, but don’t hold on to it. Let it go and free yourself to receive the Lord’s love and insight.
Have you found yourself in similar situations of emotional overwhelm? What did you do to help you to find a place of peace? What strategies do you use in moments of emotional overwhelm? I’d love to hear different approaches to dealing with these moments.