You know the moments when you’re balancing a few too many things, then the pot boils over on the stove, the dog is barking and then you find your kid colouring on the walls? 😭
You know the anger you feel when you have to ask your child to get on their shoes 17 times before you leave the house? 🤬
How about the anxiety about being potentially being exposed to COVID? 😦
These are OVERWHELMING situations.
These situations cause overwhelming emotions. 🤯
While you probably try to keep your cool much of the time, the truth is that powerful and overwhelming emotions happen to all of us and some of us don’t handle it as well as we would like to.
When overwhelming emotions happen, it can be helpful to have easy-to-use and effective strategies to help you get through the moment without making things worse. If you have ever lost your temper and freaked out on your loved ones, you know what I’m talking about.
Sometimes when we’re faced with painful or overwhelming emotions, the behaviours we engage in as a result of those emotions can actually make the situation a lot worse.
Therefore, in the midst of a painful emotional experience, where you feel like you might explode or crumble because you’re so overwhelmed, your goal in that moment is to simply not make things worse.
Instead, we need to focus on supporting ourselves through these moments of overwhelming emotions.
In this post, I’m going to share a simple and effective strategy you can use TODAY to manage overwhelming emotions in the moment. It’s based in brain science and works on your nervous system to help reduce the emotion and return you to a calm state.
The Nervous System and It’s Role in Overwhelming Emotions
Our nervous system is comprised of two separate systems: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
You are likely familiar with the sympathetic nervous system and its effects.
It’s this system that creates the fight-flight-freeze response when we are faced with threats. It is also responsible for activation of our bodies to respond to threats, and therefore works to increase our heart and breathing rate, heighten our senses of awareness and releases stress hormones in our bodies (cortisol, adrenaline, etc.)
It’s also this system that plays a big role in the arousal and overwhelm when feel when we experience overwhelming emotions.
On the flip side, we have the parasympathetic nervous system.
This system is responsible for recovery, recharging and rest.
This is the system that our body uses to bring down the heart and breathing rate and to help us recover after we are threatened.
It’s this system we want to activate when we are feeling overwhelming emotions.
If we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system when we’re feeling overwhelmed with emotion, we can help support ourselves through the experience and avoid doing something that will make the situation worse.
Wouldn’t it be handy to have some ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system when we are feeling overwhelming emotions?
Meditation is a great tool to reduce stress and these overwhelming emotions. If you want to release all that control and perfectionism out of your mind, I invite you to download my 10-Minute Meditation for Releasing Perfectionism. It is a free audio meditation, and you can listen to it whenever, wherever, and however you like. Download it here!
Enter: The TIP Skill
When the PNS is activated, you will slowly begin to feel calmer and more in control. 🤗
So what does TIP stand for?
Did you know that if you were to fall into a frozen lake that your body would naturally turn on your parasympathetic nervous system?
It makes sense, because you would want your body to need less resources in order to survive.
In a survival situation such as falling into cold water, you would want your body to conserve its energy and reduce the amount of oxygen it needs to survive. This is referred to as The Dive Reflex. Cool huh?
So how can we use this information in moments of overwhelming emotion?
Using cold water to activate your dive reflex and trigger your parasympathetic nervous system to kick in could look like:
- Going to the sink and splashing cold water over your face (the water should cover your eyes and top of your nose/bottom of your forehead)
- Getting a bowl of ice water and submerging your eyes/forehead in it
- Putting a ice-cold cloth on your eyes and forehead
- Putting an ice-pack or even frozen vegetables on your eyes/forehead
Ideally, you should expose your eyes and forehead to cold water for a minimum of 30 seconds to activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
I – Intense Exercise
When we exercise, our sympathetic nervous system is activated.
What follows naturally is a parasympathetic response that brings our bodies back down to homeostasis.
It slows the heart rate, slows the breathing and releases hormones to calm the system.
Therefore, we can high-jack this natural response.
When you’re feeling very overwhelmed or emotional, try to do 20-30 minutes of intense exercise (if you are able.)
Not only does exercise release natural endorphins which helps us feel happier and more relaxed, but once we are done, it will trigger the parasympathetic nervous system to do it’s thing.
Sometimes this is a less practical option, but there are many ways to do some intense exercise that maybe you’re not thinking of:
- Excusing yourself from an intense work meeting to do some jumping jacks for a few minutes
- Packing up the kids in the stroller and getting out for a quick walk
- Jumping on your bike and going for a quick ride for a reset
- The idea is that we want to change the body’s chemistry to bring down physiological arousal – get creative!
The next time you find yourself overwhelmed with emotion, ask yourself: How can I get out and move my body to activate my parasympathetic nervous system right now?
P- Paced Breathing
Most strategies for reducing overwhelm involve some form of breathing exercises, and this tip is no exception.
Did you know that when you breathe in, you activate the sympathetic nervous system?
Did you know that when you breathe out, you activate the parasympathetic system?
Using paced breathing exercises can help to focus the mind and calm the nervous system.
The trick is to exhale very slowly to signal to the brain and nervous system that it’s time to calm down.
You can also use counting to orient your mind and help focus your breathing if you’re feeling very overwhelmed.
Try breathing in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 6. Repeat this 10 times or until you’re feeling more calm.
Reduce Overwhelming Emotions with This Simple TIP
The TIP strategy gives you actionable and effective tools to help you support yourself through crisis moments and overwhelming emotions (without making it worse.)
Using these skills can help you get through the moment and clear your head so you can take effective action after the fact.
Try this TIP strategy the next time you’re overwhelmed.
Do you have any other strategies that help you calm down when you’re feeling highly emotional?
HAVE A LISTEN + SHARE YOUR TAKEAWAYS!
This episode digs into:
- A simple and effective way to manage overwhelming emotions in the moment
- What to focus on when you’re feeling overwhelmed
- The importance of the parasympathetic nervous system when you’re feeling overwhelmed and emotional
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