This has been an intense year. Besides a medical pandemic affecting everyone, it can seem as if we have a global emotional epidemic, as well.
The condition of the world is hard to ignore. Regardless of your political affiliations, current health, and employment status, nothing feels stable. It brings up a Pandora’s Box of emotions. Amid global chaos, it triggers our emotions.
And amongst collective chaos, individual lives continue with emotional drama and grief. We continue to experience the poignancy of aging, the grief of mortal illness, the ecstasy of childbirth, and all emotions contained within the spectrum between life and death.
We all experience a vast range of emotions – from anger, grief, rage, sorrow, and frustration to the happy times mixed in. But we may not want to discuss the happiness for fear of feeling we don’t have the right to experience joy, peacefulness, serenity, pride, amusement, or gratitude. We may even feel guilty for being happy.
So what do we do?
Rule out the serious obstacles
First, we rule out the serious obstacles. There are many reasons for emotions and some are serious. Those can’t be cured by merely managing them away. They may need medical intervention.
So consider if there is an underlying medical condition causing extreme emotional duress. Other causes include sleep deprivation and other poor health habits (e.g., diet and exercise deficiencies), and PTSD and other severe trauma, including grief.
Chances are the emotional turmoil remains, even if there is no illness or other serious threat. What then? It’s time to consider our emotional triggers.
We respond to distinct emotional triggers but there are some that are typical to many people. And with the intensity happening in our world, multiple circumstances trigger us.
Fear, insecurity, disapproval, and loss of control are common emotional triggers. There are many additional triggers, from rejection and betrayal to loss of independence.
But all relate back to what we value. Who are we and what do we stand for?
Who wouldn’t be emotional?
In a time when everyone is restricted, who wouldn’t feel a loss of control? And when media outlets show natural disasters of fire, floods, and hurricanes destroying homes and habitat, isn’t it natural to be afraid? If we aren’t socializing in our typical patterns, shouldn’t we expect to feel insecure when we can’t connect with our friends and family?
Each of these scenarios threatens an aspect of what we individually and collectively value. By paying attention to when we get upset and how we’re triggered, we understand what we are afraid we are losing.
We are most afraid when we are threatened by what we value most being taken from us. And in a time of uncertainty, it can feel like everything is under threat.
So what do we do about those swirling emotions that come out unpredictably?
Hierarchy of Needs
Our needs and our values are entwined. And when our needs aren’t met, it’s difficult to respond to others’ needs in the way we might prefer.
Intellectually we might want to respond to someone kindly or compassionately, but if we aren’t taken care of first, it’s very difficult and often impossible, to think of the right words to say or actions to take.
The Maslow Hierarchy of Needs states five levels we all need in order to ultimately self-actualize, and also to extend ourselves to others.
From basic needs to more emotional
The base level is basic physiologic needs of food, water, warmth, rest, safety, and security. The second level concerns psychological needs of intimacy and relationships, and esteem, belongingness, and sense of accomplishment. And the top level is the self-actualization of achieving full potential which incorporates creativity.
These levels don’t necessarily work as a staircase, ascending progressively. Elements from each mix and meld.
Yet this year, many individuals aren’t meeting the levels they did in the past. Who wouldn’t be emotional?
Even if there’s every reason to be emotional, it can still feel uncomfortable. Out of control expression of our feelings can cause actual damage to relationships and disappoint us.
As we’ve discovered, emotions are indications that we feel threatened. Taken too literally, we translate them into an immediate call to action and can quickly regret it. It’s understandable to feel angry when threatened, but if we immediately respond by yelling at our friends, we may regret it later.
Sometimes it seems there is no appropriate outlet. Yet emotions will find a release. And it’s not always an opportune one unless directed.
Not expressing our emotions may give us the illusion of self—control but it doesn’t lead us to feeling better — to feeling happier and more satisfied with our day and our life.
From emotional to inspirational
Those same emotions, though, can be inspirational if we take the time to listen to them. When we discover what they trigger and why, we can more responsibly choose our response. Many times, the response may be not to react. We may choose to recognize why we’re angry and understand the reason without feeling the need to yell.
The reality is we can’t see into the future. We don’t have control over everything. The goal-oriented approach that may have worked so well for us in the past may not be the appropriate focus now.
So what is?
That’s the question to ask yourself. And then take the time to listen. Tune in to your inner voice — your intuition — for the answers.
Because the answer is what leads us to what we each need
as a community
The answer won’t be the same for all of us because it varies according to our individual values, just like our emotional triggers vary.
And here’s a bit of good news to go along with it.
The approaches we apply to erase our emotions are the same that allow us to hear our intuition. Activities like meditation, exercise, journal writing, and contemplation all allow us to process emotions while tuning in to our intuition.
By understanding what we value, and when it is threatened, we can clearly see our triggers.
But these solutions will be the ones that bring you peace of mind in the midst of chaos even if the world itself doesn’t seem peaceful.
Want help clarifying your values and aligning your life with them? Take a look at It’s Not That Complicated: How to Create a Personalized Template of Alignment for solutions.