Tips For Emotional Self-Management in These Uncertain Times

In difficult situations, managing emotions can be as natural as treating a cut.

Posted Mar 21, 2020

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The coronavirus epidemic is freaking people out.
Source: Wikimedia commons

You do not need a Doctorate in Psychology to tell that these are chaotic times. Many find themselves quarantined from the world, self-isolating as they await the end of a frightening pandemic and staring down the likelihood of a global recession, too. Pretty spooky.

Previously I’ve written about overcoming winter melancholy through mindfulness and small efforts to express yourself socially. Now, we find ourselves in a much more intense time that will require stronger emotional management.

How not to needlessly ruminate

Whether internal or external issues trigger stress, it is easy to think that our emotions are beyond our control. After all, we don’t deliberately will them into being. They just seem to happen to us, unbidden, making it easy to think that feelings such as anxiety, dread, or anger have a life of their own. But just as you might go for a run to keep your body fit, or read or meditate to nourish your mind, so too you’ve got to put in some effort if you want to mitigate unwelcome emotions.

Happily, we can practice emotional management. Whether we’re in crisis or not, it is good to make these techniques a routine habit.

Step one is to not suppress uncomfortable feelings or try to bury them. We may wish to brush them aside like a pesky housefly. But like a fly, they often come back to annoy us. We may be ashamed of how we feel and blame ourselves for being weak. But the real weakness is refusing to manage uncomfortable feelings, because doing nothing can lead to greater psychological pain in the future and impede your ability to socialize with others.

Keeping Worry at Bay

The healthier option is to acknowledge unpleasant feelings and accept them as real. Ask yourself what this particular one is about. Instead of just feeling scared or nervous, interrogate the feeling: “Why am I scared? What happened recently to make me feel this way? How is it making me feel physically?” Reaching out to a friend, a professional, or even a stranger and admitting what we feel can surprisingly lead to a new perspective and free us to make strides.

Creative Commons
A willingness to reach out is half the battle.
Source: Creative Commons

A few minutes of quiet meditation can also change your perspective, and the more often you do it the quicker it yields results. Sit alone and focus on your breathing (earbuds out, phone turned off and put away). Or take a walk outside, preferably among some greenery. Everyone knows that nature is restorative, yet we often don’t turn to it when we should. A brisk walk outdoors in the sunlight will raise our endorphins and brighten our mood. 

Like any form of self-healing, these techniques take some effort at first. Let the discomfort you feel be the cue to step back and retreat within yourself for a moment. Ask, “What is this about?” Trying to distract from your fears by obsessively surfing the news or social media can actually make you feel worse. This is especially true during tumultuous periods of uncertainty, when the end isn’t in sight anytime soon.

Nothing too good or too bad lasts too long

Chaotic times eventually end, but they are never a one-time thing. You can count on periods of tumult happening throughout your life. So why not have some tools handy to calm yourself and take the focus off negative thoughts?

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Cytowic, Richard. “Banishing Winter Doldrumns.” Psychology Today. February 22, 2012

Winch, Guy. Emotional First Aid. Plume, 2014