In these strange times, we are being confronted with our emotions like never before. Suzy Reading suggests how we can embrace them and allow them to move through us

Feel like you’re riding a rollercoaster of emotions? You’re not alone. And while there are valid reasons and it’s totally normal, there are things you can do to help yourself feel calm. It helps to understand the purpose of emotions and what it means to be emotionally healthy. We all need a toolkit to help us with difficult feelings and safely move through them.

Emotions are running high for everyone: fear, anxiety, worry, grief, loneliness, fatigue, anger, resentment, frustration, irritation and boredom. They might be punctuated by waves of hope, gratitude, awe and love. These feelings are a completely natural response to uncertainty, lack of control and freedom, very real concern for our health, being separated from loved ones, financial strain, stress on the frontline, the pressure cooker of quarantine life and the squeeze of working from home while home schooling.

Many of the ways that we usually distract ourselves or manage our emotions are limited, whether it’s the gym, yoga classes, shopping, the cinema, coffee shops or pubs. It’s no wonder we are all feeling more confronted by our emotions than ever before. Don’t worry if it all seems new to you. There are things we can do to help ourselves feel better. This chapter won’t last forever but, until there’s a resolution, going gently will make all the difference.

What are emotions?

Emotions are messages from your body, designed to keep you safe and living harmoniously with other people. There are no good or bad emotions: they all have their place and purpose. Some are more pleasurable than others – but, because they are messages, we need them all. We feel anger when we are threatened, helping us to stand up for ourselves and those in our care. Anxiety and fear alert us to potential danger. Sadness and grief signal that we need to take time out to soothe and heal. Loneliness prompts us to reach out and reconnect. Guilt reminds us to observe our moral compass.

But while emotions call to us to check in, they are not facts. We need to judge whether the message is correct and whether action is required. We also need to choose mindfully what that action might be.

And it’s helpful to acknowledge that you are not your emotions. They just passing experiences. Having anxious and angry feelings doesn’t mean that you are an anxious, angry person. Emotions are temporary; remember, ‘This too shall pass’.

What does ‘emotional health’ mean?

Emotional health is the capacity to feel and move safely through all your emotions: the delightful, the heavy, and all the ones in between. Our emotional health is nurtured by our ability to notice our feelings, to accurately identify them, to express them and move through them without harming ourselves or others.

We are not aiming for perpetual happiness. It’s not attainable. We cannot selectively eradicate any emotion – and, if you numb yourself to one, you numb yourself to them all. We just need ways to help us sit with them and choose what to do next.

Suzy is an author and chartered psychologist and coach, specialising in self-care. Her new book Self Care for Tough Times is out this month. @suzyreading

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