Regardless of your political affiliation, it is painful to witness our country so divided. The schism in our nation only seems to be growing and many people feel angry, helpless, hopeless, afraid, ashamed, and depressed. In part 1 of this series, I discussed why it is important to fully experience our emotions. In this post, I provide 3 strategies to help you do so.
1. Create space for yourself to experience your feelings. Sitting with our emotions is one of the most challenging things to do. We are indoctrinated to believe that discomfort should be pushed away and we can magically live in a world free from pain. Unfortunately, the only way to get past our emotions is to move through them. Designate a specific time each day to check-in with yourself and observe your emotions. Notice not only the thoughts, but also the bodily sensations that accompany your feelings. For example, anxiety is often accompanied by tightness in your muscles, a clenched jaw, a racing heart, and quick shallow breathing. When you notice these bodily sensations, you can make a conscious effort to relax these muscles and focus on deepening and slowing your breath. Journaling and meditation can help increase emotional awareness, process and integrate your feelings. Of course, it is impossible to isolate our emotions to a discrete period of time since emotions will ebb and flow throughout the day, but if you can’t stop what you are doing and allow yourself to sit with your feelings as they arise, designating a specific time can provide a good outlet.
2. Focus on what you do have control over. There are many things that we do not have control over. Focusing exclusively on those things may contribute to a global sense of helplessness. Identify areas in your life where you have greater agency. The areas that we tend to have the most control over are our choices, intentions, and behaviors. For example, make the choice to engage in an act of kindness with a stranger. Prioritize your wellbeing by getting enough sleep, nourishing your body with food that makes you feel good, and being active in ways that you enjoy. Limit time on social media if that is increasing your anxiety. Contribute to a cause that you feel passionately about. Practice compassion towards yourself and others.
3. Reach out for support. Instead of becoming ever more polarized in our perspectives, how can we work to support one another? That may involve calling a friend when you need support and listening to a friend when you can give support. Religious and community groups can be invaluable in difficult times. And most importantly, if your emotions feel overwhelming or if you find yourself turning to food, alcohol, or other substances to cope, seek professional help. You can use the “Find An Expert” tool on Psychology Today to connect with a therapist in your area.
Dr. Alexis Conason is a clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City specializing in body image and overeating disorders. To learn more about Dr. Conason's practice and mindful eating, please visit www.drconason.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.