In a worldwide pandemic, there are a lot of emotions happening right now. Between the anxiety of coming in contact with the virus, having our loved ones infected, or loss of jobs that are occurring, there are lots of overwhelming emotions right now from everyone. It can be tempting to wish our emotions would just stop and that we could not feel anything for a while. When I was in school, I had a professor tell me that emotions are like the warning lights on the dashboard of our car. They are present to let us know something. Sometimes the light goes off on our car and we take it into the shop to have them see if everything is working, other times we just ignore it and hope that the light goes off by itself. With emotions, we do the same thing. Sometimes we tune into our emotions and realize “I feel anxious because I do not feel safe right now.” Other times we do not like the intensity of the emotions we experience so we do whatever we can to stop the feeling.
This brings me to the topic of how do we know if we are numbing our feelings or using our behaviors to cope with the situation at hand. Numbing disconnects us from what is going on in the world, takes us out of feeling the feeling and moves us into a different state of mind. Coping helps us manage the feelings we are feeling. Often when we talk about numbing, we talk about behaviors like drinking alcohol, smoking or vaping, using any number of illegal substances. Numbing can also look like; eating more food than normal (generally not healthy foods, more of your “comfort” foods), excessive exercise, increasing hours at work, increased sexual activity, I could go on.
Now some of you might be wondering, what can you do to cope with emotions? If you go to Google you can find endless resources about how to cope with life. Different things work for different people; there really are no “5 steps to cope better with life”. (I mean I am sure you will find that, but not from me). It is more about trying out different things and seeing what works for you and what does not. A lot of people talk about meditation and deep breathing. I am going, to be honest; I struggle with this one. For me doing yoga is easier because it has the mindfulness elements of focusing on the breath and noticing thoughts as they come through, but having the rest of my body engaged makes that process more accessible for me. Some people going to work out and exercise can be coping (I know I said it can be numbing as well, give me a few and I will address that), cleaning, crafting, cooking, singing, talking with friends, the list goes on. It is about what works for you.
Now the last thing I will talk about in this post is where is this magical line between coping and numbing and how do you know when you have crossed it? Part of it goes back to are you noticing the dashboard light is going off or are you putting duct tape over the light so it is out of sight out of mind? If you notice the light comes on “I feel really anxious about coronavirus,” are you calling to make an appointment (I am going to stop and take a few deep breaths right now), or are you unplugging the dashboard lights (eating until the feeling goes away, having a few drinks to calm the nerves, etc.). One sign that says you are coping is that you are acknowledging that some emotion is happening and you are aware of the impact it has on your body. Or you are at least trying to be aware of the impact it is having on your body.
I know that this is a crazy time in life for a lot of people, if you have questions or think you could benefit from learning more about how to cope instead of numb, feel free to reach out, I would be happy to help in any way I can.