When I used to struggle and go through tough times, I didn’t really know how to handle it. I didn’t know what to do. Because what do you do during a painful situation?
Years ago, I’d try to eat it away. I’d berate myself for having certain feelings and get even more upset. I’d withdraw and spend a lot of time on the couch, flipping channels and feeling empty. I’d also feel hopeless and helpless and alone. I’d feel restless and lost and very uncomfortable in my own body.
Of course, none of my actions—the TV watching, the criticism, the emotional eating, the isolation—were helpful. So what is helpful?
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
First you feel your feelings. Whatever they are. The anger. The sadness. The deep-seated loneliness. The confusion. You sit with them, and you let them pass through you. You welcome them without judgement or scorn as best as you can. (I wrote more about this yesterday in this piece.)
In another essay in the wonderful book The Self-Acceptance Project: How to Be Kind & Compassionate Toward Yourself in Any Situation, psychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D, writes about an additional approach: creating a first-aid kit. He discusses his own kit, which consists of these four components:
- Notice when “the water gets choppy.” Identify the feeling you’re experiencing. Name it. I’m anxious. I’m hurt. I’m afraid. Simply labeling what we’re experiencing “lowers activation in the amygdala—alarm bell—in the brain.”
- Be self-compassionate. Bring the same concern and kindness you’d bring to a loved one to yourself. Hanson shares this example of what he tells myself: “Oh, ouch. I wish I didn’t suffer. I wish that you, Rick, were not suffering here. Ouch this hurts. I wish this didn’t hurt.” This isn’t about resisting the pain or wishing it away. It’s about acknowledging that you’d like not to suffer. You can tell yourself something similar—or anything that feels supportive and kind.
- Be on your own side. In other words, be a friend to yourself.
- Make a plan. Think about what you’ll do about this storm. Maybe you’ll talk to your spouse. Maybe you’ll let it go, and move on.
Consider adopting Hanson’s kit as your own. You might think through a recent storm and write it out in your journal. Write about how you’d navigate each step. What were the feelings you were feeling? Pinpoint and name them. How would you acknowledge your pain? How would you support yourself through the suffering? How would you be a friend to yourself? What might this look like? What would your plan be?
After all, practice is powerful. And writing helps to make feelings and concepts concrete and tangible, which helps you make sense of them.
You also might create your own emotional first-aid kit, which includes some of Hanson’s elements—particularly the part about self-compassion. It’s so important and comforting to tell yourself, I know you’re hurting. I know this is hard. I know you’d rather be in a different position. But I’m here. I’m listening. We will get through this. What can we do? Where can we start?
Write about your kit and everything it includes in your journal or on an index card or a sticky note. Use this to remind yourself that when a storm hits, you’ve got you covered.