Developing an Emotional First Aid Kit
April 6, 2012 • By Nicole S. Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, Holistic Psychotherapy Topic Expert Contributor. Originally published on GoodTherapy.org
If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
No matter who you are, things will happen that throw you off-kilter. Life intrudes on inner peace with an uncanny regularity. It may be your boss, spouse, children, house, parents, finances, health, or even a freaky weather event, but life has its own trajectory, and no one can know what new challenge awaits.
Luckily, there are many ways to regain equilibrium. Trial and error, plumbing your depths to see what really works for you, and discerning the differences between various situations that trigger your sympathetic nervous system—your fight or flight reaction—are all very helpful in developing an emotional first aid kit.
When you find you have strayed from your center, allow the imbalance. Just notice what is going on emotionally, physically, and mentally. What are you telling yourself about this experience? Are you ready to regroup, or do you need a bit more time to explore what is happening? Sometimes, the hardest thing is allowing yourself to totter emotionally, to grieve or feel angry, overwhelmed, or exhausted. Whatever is happening, it won’t last.
Ten Tips For Emergency Emotional First Aid
Since it is easy to get thrown off-kilter when you are shocked or surprised by unwelcome news, you may want to try these techniques as first responses:
- Take slow, deep breaths, and allow a little extra time to exhale.
- Remind yourself that this, too, shall pass.
- Allow space for all of your feelings.
- Have faith in yourself. The truth is that you can handle more than you might believe at this particular moment. You can use prayer ormeditation for added support and to access your belief in a greater power.
- Don’t take anything personally.
- Try to stick with your routine, even if you are feeling dazed or numb. Having a routine will anchor you.
- Eat, sleep, and get some fresh air.
- Picture your 6-year-old self, and lovingly embrace that child. Gently reassure the frightened little being inside.
- Connect with someone, such as a friend or family member, a therapist or neighbor, even a stranger on alocal hot line.
- Understand that you are here for everything, good and bad. Visualize yourself as a river of experiences, and let life flow without judgment.
Reading this list takes only a few minutes, but actually working through each item builds resiliency and will help you keep going, one second at a time. Sometimes, just existing during a traumatic experience is the best you can do and remembering that as time passes, your perspective will change. For now, it is best to accept the present, do what you can, and choose to believe everything is happening for your highest good.
If or when you are ready to re-center, reach out to a trusted friend, relative, clergy person, or therapist. Speak honestly and openly. Being heard and understood is one of the most bonding, loving, and freeing experiences you can have, but you have to ask for help. If this has been hard for you in the past, break out of your old rut of being super-independent and pick up the phone.
If company doesn’t fit the bill, try some solitude. Silence can be soothing and afford you the opportunity to integrate what you have experienced. If that feels overwhelming, try a guided meditation. There are numerous free podcasts on iTunes, like Meditation Oasis, A Quiet Mind, or The Meditation Podcast. If you have the time, try a soothing Yoga Nidra practice—this is a guided practice of yogic sleep, where you are in the liminal space between waking and sleeping, and involves no knowledge of yoga postures. (My favorite is available free from iTunes through Elsie’s Yoga Podcast, episode #62.)
Take a bath with Epsom salts and lavender oil. The magnesium sulfate in the salts will quiet any muscle tension, and the essential oil—about six to eight drops—will calm your mind and act as a pain reliever.
Read something inspirational. Try some poetry, or escape with a novel. Reading is both relaxing and engaging. If audio books work better for you, check some out from the library and download them to your iTunes so you’ll have a ready supply.
Music really can soothe the savage breast, as the playwright William Congreve suggested in the late 17th century. Find something that works for you: it may be hard rock, or hemi-synch. Sanskrit chants can be remarkably helpful, as they bathe you in mantras designed to calm your nervous system. Chanting them yourself will bring even greater benefits, as making the sounds activates different parts of the mouth that correspond to different areas in your brain. The simplest one is om, a sound that is said to embody all sounds.
Moving your body takes the kinks out emotionally, too. Even if the last thing you feel like doing is dancing, yoga, or taking a walk, just do something for five minutes as an experiment. If you feel better, do another five minutes.
Allow nature to work its magic. Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, the father of homeopathic medicine, wrote that eating well, sleeping enough, and getting fresh air are essential to good health, mentally and physically. Don’t underestimate their value.
Rebalance with a favorite ritual, like making yourself a cup of tea and sipping it slowly.
Permission to publish this on the PiedPsych website was graciously granted by the author, Nicole Urdang who specializes in Holistic Divorce, and has a host of well-written articles on HolisticDivorceCounseling.com.