Remaining steady in an emotional storm

Remaining steady in an emotional storm

Psychologist Russ Harris refers to the importance of us learning to remain grounded in ourselves and our values, even when we are in the midst of emotional chaos…

“It's like an anchor in the midst of an emotional storm: the anchor won't get rid of the storm, but it will hold you steady until it passes”

When we are feeling very emotional, there is a disconnect between our emotional brain, and rational brain and our emotional reactions tend to drive us. Of course, we don’t want to be cut off from our emotions either, but we need a healthy balance where we can acknowledge how we feel, but also be able to respond from a place of clarity.

We cannot rely on everything around us to always be ok, in order for us to feel ‘ok’. But we can learn to steady ourselves when things are difficult, and our emotions are heightened.

So how can we begin to develop our own anchor?

This technique can be used any time; it can be practiced at the beginning of every day to get you in a focused, calmer mode. It can also be used if you are feeling overwhelmed and taken away by thoughts & feelings and need to be more grounded and present.

Firstly, stand, sit or lie comfortably and take some deep breaths. Then try the following steps to find the anchor(s) that work for you (and these may be different each time or you may find some that work for you, which when used regularly, can become associated in your brain, with grounding and anchoring you) Anchors refer to anything in the present moment that are NOT associated with the difficult thoughts and feelings.

Expand your awareness: this involves both acknowledging the presence of any difficult thoughts, feelings and sensations but at the same time also noticing what you can see, hear, touch, taste and smell in that present moment.

  1. You can start by turning inward to acknowledge what is going on inside; that you are experiencing some difficult feelings and thoughts. You don’t need to label these, just acknowledge they are there.

  2. Once you have acknowledged this, turn back towards the environment and your senses for what else is happening: what can you see? What can you hear? What can you smell? Taste? Touch?

    This is a useful way to connect with the many things happening in the moment; there may be difficult emotions but there is also much more. This helps to expand your awareness and step away from being completely consumed with the emotional storm.

  3. Take control over physical action: Turn your attention to your physical position and take some intentional control over this. It can include moving, changing your posture, pushing your feet into the floor or hands into the chair or cushion, pushing fingertips together, having a drink of water, massaging a spot on your body.

Next, turn back to the internal world again; acknowledge, there may continue to be an emotional storm at this moment, but you are learning ways to steady yourself until it passes. Once again, turn your attention to your senses; what is around you, and intentionally move your body.

This exercise can be repeated as many times as needed. But remember that the purpose is not to ‘get rid’ of the difficult emotions. The purpose is to be able to drop your anchors in the midst of these storms and remain steady until it passes. It really can make a difference!

This article was written by Dr Joanna Astill, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Owner of Breakthrough Psychology Services and Co-owner of Stressed Out to Feeling Fabulous

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