Overwhelming emotions

One of the things I experienced, especially in the early days of grief, was being overwhelmed with emotions. The pain was so real and so strong, it would frequently keep me from functioning in my day-to-day life. Gut-wrenching crying. Breath-taking horror. I felt like all of my emotional responses were turned up ten-fold. Or maybe 100-fold. I tried to get my emotions under control, but nothing seemed to work. I would just end up bottling them up, only for them to explode out later, even stronger. I was a mess, and in so much pain.

A friend who’s a professional therapist, suggested I try a technique she’d been teaching for many years. Mindfulness. I thought she was asking me to meditate or to somehow focus on the pain. It sounded too simplistic to actually be effective. But as I came to understand Mindfulness as she intended, I found it helped tremendously. Your mileage may vary, but I thought I’d share in case it may be helpful to someone else.

Every time I felt overwhelmed with emotion, I would take a deep slow breath, and then focus on the current moment. If I was feeling afraid, I’d ask myself if there was something in that moment that was threatening to me. No? Then breathe. I would sit quietly, close my eyes, and focus on my breathing. One breath. Another. What did breathing feel like? Was the air cold or warm? I would keep my eyes closed and focus on my skin. Could I feel a breeze? Or the soft touch of my socks? I would breathe quietly and listen silently for sounds in the room. The whir of an air-conditioner. The sounds of a cat. Then I’d focus on the sounds outside the room or outside the house. A lawnmower. The birds at the feeder. Children playing. Then I’d come back to my breathing and find that I was calmer and more centered. Less apt to feel overwhelmed. And the next time the overwhelm happened, I’d go through the process again.

Focusing on the present moment can help turn our thinking away from the what-ifs of the past and the future. The present, this very moment, is what matters right now. When you feel overwhelmed by past hurts, losses, or future imaginings, try focusing fully on the present moment. Take a breath. Take another. Feel your body. Hear the birds. Actively and gently turn your thoughts from the past and future, while you look at the realities of right now.

Breathe. Just breathe. I still practice Mindfulness and it still helps, even in these times when my emotions aren’t as overwhelming. Give it a try. It can’t hurt, and it may prove to be a gentle, helpful lifeline that can bring a little peace in the midst of the turmoil.