August 21, 2018

Calming down overwhelming emotions

Working with panic or strong emotions can have several phases. What you need when you experience strong emotions is not the same as what you need to reduce strong emotions over time. The exercises that we present here are all about calm down emotions and panic here and now. This is both useful and important. At the same time, if you find that strong emotions characterizes your life too much, then it may be helpful to look at the other exercises related to dealing with things you feel about. In that case, you can press “What do I need?” to find appropriate exercises.

Exercise 1: Using breathing to calm down

Exercise 2: Get back to here and now

Exercise 3: Blow away worries (soap bubble exercise)

Exercise 4: Calm down panic and emotion through self-care

Exercise 1: Using breathing to calm down

This is a breathing exercise that you can use to slow down bodily reactions. Imagine a square, or steady your gaze on the square below, a window, a screen, a picture, or the like.

  1. Breathe in using four seconds.
  2. Hold your breath for four seconds.
  3. Breathe out using four seconds.
  4. Hold your breath for four seconds.

Repeat the exercise until you feel calmer.

Exercise 2: Get back to here and now

Strong emotions and panic can be so overwhelming that you feel beyond your own body and without contact with yourself, as if you are somewhere else. In such cases, it may be helpful to move your attention back to your body and situation here and now. Here are some exercises that can help you with it. You can do one or more:

  • Keep your eyes open and look around the room. Notice what you see and describe your surroundings outloud to yourself. “I see…”
  • Put both feet on the floor, put some pressure on them and feel the floor under your feet.
  • Hold on to a pillow, a stuffed animal or a ball with your hands. You can also fold your hands. Move your hands around the object and feel how the sensation on your skin, right here and now.
  • Focus on something neutral or relaxing outside of yourself, such as a soothing song, a neutral voice, or ambient sounds.
  • Hold or put something cold on your face, like a wet cloth or a towel, a soda box or something chilly.
  • Think of three good things, like a place, a person, food or music you like.

Exercise 3: Blow away worries (soap bubble exercise)

This exercise is well suited to get a break from intrusive thoughts and experiences that may lead to stronger emotional experiences. It is help to take a break from things that are difficult.

  1. Imagine a picture of a landscape that you enjoy looking at, preferably a place where you feel safe and well. It can be anywhere: at the cottage, by the sea, on the beach, in the mountains, in the woods or a landscape you simply imagine.
  2. Close your eyes and see this landscape before your inner eye. Imagine what’s there. Sea? Grass? Trees? Mountains? Clouds? Sun? Water? Other people you love?
  3. What’s it like being there right now? What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you feel? The air in your hair? The sun on your face? The ground underneath you?
  4. When you notice that feelings or thoughts are imposing, do the following:
  5. Imagine you are lifting the feeling or thought out of your head and keep it right in front of you.
  6. Put a general label on the thought or feeling (“Hurtful memory,” “Scared of the future,” or similar).
  7. Wrap the feeling or thought in a soap bubble and blow it into the landscape.
  8. Redirect your attention to the landscape.
  9. If painful or difficult thoughts or feelings continues to come, continue wrapping them into soap bubbles and blow them out into the landscape until you feel calmer.

Exercise 4: Calm down panic and emotion through self-care

This is an exercise that helps you to meet yourself with care and comfort. If the feelings you know are too strong to concentrate on this you can do exercise 1, 2 and 3. If it is manageable you can do this exercise to relieve the pain.

First you need to recall in memory a picture of yourself in a situation where you are small and in need of care. If you have difficulties with this, then you can recall a picture of a child that you know you know you are caring for. If you are struggling to feel care for children, then maybe you can feel it for an animal you care for?

Find a comfortable position. Make sure you sit upright with good support for your back. Feel the contact with the chair. Keep both your legs planted on the floor and rest your hands in your lap. Take a few deep breaths and try to relax.

1. Picture the vulnerable child!

This is either yourself in a vulnerable situation as a child or a picture of another vulnerable child that you care for. Imagine the child and notice the face, its eyes and its posture.

2. Imagine what it was like for the vulnerable child!

Notice how it feels imagining the vulnerable child. See if you can get a hold of the vulnerability.

3. What does the vulnerable child need?

Notice what the little child needs or needed in that situation.

4. Imagine giving the child what it needs!

Look at that little child again. As the caring adults you are, imagine that you give the vulnerable child the care and comfort that it needed. For some, it is easier to imagine being another caregiver, such as a grandparent or partner.

5. Imagine what it is like for the child to get what it needs!

Imagine that you are the little child: How does it feel to get that care? Feel in your body how the care and comfort affects you. See if you can accept this care and comfort from yourself. Let the feelings impact you, and put words to how it feels.

Take a few minutes to end this process. Breathe deeply, and get ready to continue your day with this new experience. You may want to summarize for yourself how this was and what you want to do with it going forward.