Sorting Through the Overwhelming Emotions of an Anxious Mind
She was struggling with anxiety and overwhelming emotions, and I was thrilled to hear that my advice was actually very effective for her!
Her dilemma was brought on by the plans of her daughter’s wedding. I won’t bore you, or overwhelm you with the long story, but the punchline and the last straw was a text from her soon to be son-in-law.
The crux of my friend’s stress was a very tense and strained relationship with the son-in-law’s family. They have provided my friend’s daughter with all kinds of emotional, financial and day-to-day support over the years. (He comes from a very wealthy family.) Basically, the son-in-law demanded that my friend and her husband make a toast to “thank the groom’s family” for everything they have done for her daughter over the years. He also demanded that they respect his parents — as they paid for the wedding — or they will not be welcome to attend her daughter’s ceremony or reception.
My friend was beside herself with rage, frustration, raw hatred, sadness, and even grief. She resents his side of the family for being wealthy enough to “control” her daughter’s wedding and she has been under immense stress for the past few months — making plans, dress shopping, buying items for the shower and wedding, etc. In other words, she was beyond overwhelmed emotionally, which in turn made her physically sick with shingles, pneumonia and a strange undiagnosed virus. She was literally becoming stressed to death about her kid’s upcoming nuptials.
I hadn’t heard from her for a few days, so I sent her a message to check on her. We typically talk almost every day. She had been in her bedroom for days, pitying herself, feeling sick and hating the world. She was in hiding. She replied with the entire story, and told me she wasn’t going to attend her daughter’s wedding. My friend was a single mother to this girl for many years before she remarried. Her new husband has become the daughter’s new “daddy” since she was a teenager. This is her ONLY child, and the thought of missing her only kid’s wedding because of a ridiculous text from a 21-year-old was utterly ludicrous. So, I helped her.
Compartmentalize Your Emotions
> The first step to this is to TAKE A STEP BACK and have a look at yourself and your feelings. Make words for those feelings.
> Step two is write down the names of the people you are ACTUALLY angry at, hurt by, or want to throat punch. (Even if it is yourself you are mad at.) You can be as literal or figurative as you want to be with this exercise. Either visualize that you are writing them, or actually take a pen and paper and write the names down. Tear or cut the names out into little pieces of paper, so that each name is on an individual piece of paper.
> Now comes the hardest part. On a separate piece of paper, jot down EVERY emotion you are feeling. Sit and ponder why you are emotional. Take as much time as you need and write your “feels” down. Anger, sadness, frustration, grief, fear, hopefulness, sorrow, guilt — you get the idea. There may be a hundred emotions or there may be three, but think about what is in your mind and heart that is tearing you down, and write it out. Tear or cut all of the words out onto their own pieces of paper.
See where I’m going with this?
This is the fun part. You have a few options here.
- Try to match each name to an emotion and set them aside.
2. Take the entire lot of the little pieces of paper and pile them together.
3. Look at each person’s name individually and match them to as many emotion words as you deem necessary. You may have to write some names multiple times to match them to multiple emotions. (For example, the daughter’s name may fit EVERY emotion so you will need to write her name out again and again.)
If you want to, you can staple the slips of paper with names/emotions together. Or, you can simply pair them up and crumple them up… Whatever you want. This is YOUR game.
Now that they are all matched and paired up, sort them into piles or put them into bags or boxes. Do whatever you want with them. The next step will be to destroy them!
Burn them, kick them down the stairs, throw them in the trash! Recycle them in the blue bin, flush them down the toilet! Do whatever it takes, but GET THEM AWAY FROM YOU.
Final step, take a deep breath and face the fear. (In this case, call your daughter.) I refer to this as “chopping the head from the snake”. Sometimes you need to go right to the source in order to deal with the conflict. It is not easy, but in order to move past the problem, you need to do it.
Use your new understanding of your feelings as a mode of communication.
“When you said ___ I felt _____.”
“Your fiance made me feel____ when he said ____.”
“I want to feel_____ but it would be easier if you could help me by______.”
Communicating feelings rather than allowing your feelings to communicate for you is the key. That was exactly where the son-in-law made a huge mistake. His text was demanding, mean, immature and abrupt. By going behind her back and voicing demands, he demonstrated no respect to his fiancé or his mother-in-law. There were no feelings attached. It was more like, “You need to ____ or you aren’t welcome to attend the wedding.” My friend was BEYOND hurt and angry.
Why This Is Effective
This activity gave my friend the power to see who is responsible for what emotions she feels. It has given her the opportunity to SEE her feelings and to organize them in a literal fashion. She could attach her emotions to the actions of others and herself. She now knows the WHY of every emotion she feels, even if she has brought it on herself. It has also given her an avenue to focus on fixing it rather than hiding from it. She was able to take a step back and look at her feelings from an outside point of view. A further step you can take is to write down the ACTIONS of the person, the NAME, and the EMOTION they made you feel, bundling it all together.
During this activity, my friend was sitting in her bed, probably rolling her eyes at me for giving her such a silly task to take on while she was feeling shitty. By the time she had completed it, she was out of bed, having coffee and eating toast while she bundled up the little bits of paper. (First time she got out of bed in days. I call that a WIN). She called her daughter two hours after her paper activity and her daughter came over for a nice supper. They laughed, cried, talked and shared feelings. They set boundaries and they spoke about expenses and priorities. ANOTHER BIG WIN.
Emotions can become like a huge ball of yarn that has fallen down the stairs and unraveled. You can pick it up and try to roll it back together, but everything becomes jumbled, tangled and almost impossible to work with. Suddenly you cannot find the beginning or the end, and you just want to throw it away and forget it. Or you can sit and try to unravel it, and in doing so it makes more knots and tangles, so you panic and try to pull it apart again, only to cause more of a mess. We have all been there. It becomes a power struggle and a disaster that you feel the need to give up on.
Sometimes, all it takes is asking for help, or taking a step back and reconsidering HOW to unravel it. Maybe you can take it to a professional for help, or you can simply ask a friend what the best way to fix it is. Knowing that there are options and people to help you “unravel” is the first step. Doing yourself the favor of sorting through the mess is the second, and facing your fear and handling the issue head on is the third.
Doing activities like this can help children understand their feelings as well. Helping them by asking questions like “How did your friend make you feel when he did that?” or “Are you angry? Sad? Or hurt by what your friend did?” can help them understand WHY they feel all jumbled up and want to cry or hide. Write them down and let the child do whatever they want with their feelings and friend’s name. Then, encourage your child to try and be friends again, if you deem it worthwhile. Kids talk things through in their own way. Maybe they just resume play in the sandbox together or ride bikes together, but they know how to patch things up once the anger and hurt are gone.
In doing this practice, it also allows you the freedom of allocating the responsibility back to who or where it came from. If you have hurt yourself by making a mistake, it gives you a chance to clean the slate and start fresh. If it is someone else who caused you anger or pain, you can put it back on them by destroying the emotion after carefully aligning it with its owner, where it belongs. Never be afraid to go to the source and challenge it head-on. You can’t argue with anyone when it comes to how words or actions make you feel. Arguments stem from the actions or words that are driven by emotions. Communication stems from the emotions and feelings that the actions or words have caused.