We are now a little over a week into 2017, and I know most of you were ready to let go of 2016. Last year was a difficult year for many people, and what resonated most with me was the emotional turmoil that occurred. Symbolically, moving into 2017 allowed some people to let go of stuff from 2016, but realistically I know as a therapist this will take more than a day. I’m so glad that mindsets are shifting and people are setting goals, but I do like to explore this in more detail with my clients because setting up big resolutions can ultimately lead to a lot of disappointments.
So yay for letting go of some old stuff! But what do we do with the new stuff that comes up? I’ve already experienced stress myself in this new year, and I have seen my social media pages filling up with unpleasant (at one end of the spectrum) situations with cars breaking down and house repairs to major medical conditions and family issues (at the other end of the sucky spectrum). The biggest goal I challenge people with is to find better ways to deal with tough stuff.
I know that is not a small or simple goal at all, and one to be explored on your own, with your support system, and preferably a good therapist. Coping skills are not one size fit all, but here’s a quick list to get you started. I suggest having access to something quick and easy that you can pull out during stressful times or emotionally heavy situations because you won’t be able to or have time to think about healthy versus unhealthy coping skills. You need something to get you out of the emergency quickly so that you can use all of your tools, and use them well.
What to put in your Emotional Emergency Kit:
You can do this on paper or on your phone, or get really creative with it! Make cards outlaying what to do when you are feeling “X” (whichever feeling is causes you distress). Write out at least three options of things you can do that will help you cope with that emotion instead of engaging in a destructive behavior.
A List of People to Call
Choose 3-4 people you know will be emotionally supportive and write down their names and numbers. In case you can’t reach them, write down some important points and save that until you can speak with them. Don’t email or text because it is too ambiguous and may not lead to the support you really need.
A Video From Someone You Love
Connection and seeing eyes and faces are very comforting. Ask someone you love and trust who makes you feel safe to record a short video letting you know that you are ok, and everything will be fine. This can help you regulate emotions very quickly.
Have a few of your favorite pictures or home videos easily accessible with important people, places, children, pets, etc. Looking at pictures can elicit happy memories, which can alter your overall emotional state and help you to see situations differently throughout the day.
A Grounding Object: Bracelet, Stone, Etc.
Grounding techniques are designed to help you gain control, feel more safe, and come back to the here and now as opposed to getting lost in the past or anxious or depressed thoughts. Choose an object that either has significance to you or appeals to one of your senses, such as touch (many people choose a smooth and shiny rock for this purpose). Just by touching or squeezing the object and noticing your physical reactions, you can calm yourself and get in better control of your emotions.
Inspirational Readings or Funny Videos
Choose a reading that is comforting or inspirational, or indulge in a funny video on YouTube. Anything to shift your thinking and brighten your mood quickly can definitely help.
Believe it or not, sitting and drinking a cup of water can have an intense impact on your mood. You are attending to your body in a healthy way, and you can learn to slow down, sip, relax, and begin the process of becoming more mindful about how you are feeling during this break.
Chewing Gum, Adult Coloring Books, Or...
You may wonder how the heck chewing gum and adult coloring books are related? Anything that involves a repetitive motion produces serotonin in the brain, which has a calming effect and can make you more relaxed. If you’ve ever wondered why painting your guest room was so relaxing, now you know why!
Relaxing Audio or Meditation
You can find a million of these out there on websites or YouTube. There are many different styles and they can all help you to relax using specific techniques. During hard times, stay away from music that “pumps you up”, sad songs, or something that you associate with a particularly difficult event. High energy music is helpful in many situations, but not when you are already hypersensitive and can increase your anxiety levels.
Make a list of activities that have helped you feel better in the past. This will look different for everyone, but some common ideas are going for a walk outside, painting or another craft, getting together with a friend, cooking, riding bikes, playing with your pet, etc. Draw on your past successes to help you create the list.
What are you going to put in your Emotional Emergency Kit? I’d love to hear more ideas!
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I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice located in the Clear Lake area of Houston, Tx. I offer free 20-minute phone consults (832) 827-3288 for you to learn more about how therapy can help you feel better. I a passionate about helping people figure out how to get unstuck and make meaningful changes starting now. I specialize in working with couples, infertility, postpartum depression, and parenting.