Managing emotions when the unthinkable happens - Jane Travis

Managing emotions when the unthinkable happens

'Have you seen the news today, mum?' said my son.

My heart sank - what now?  What new horror has happened in the world?

Today, I watch the news in disbelief, my head swimming as I hear about a truck being deliberately driven into innocent people in Nice, just the latest of a series of horrendous acts of terror, civil unrest and war.

How can I possibly cope with more horror? 

More...

I feel physically sick and am moved to tears, as are thousands/millions of people around the world, I'm sure.  ​

I turn off the TV, but can't concentrate, my mind too busy trying to comprehend what has happened, disturbing me with new thoughts about the event, new realizations.  ​

I feel weary, I want to stop the world, I want to stick my head in the sand and pretend it never happened.

I put my 'just for fun' playlist on and start to tidy the house in an attempt to occupy my mind and erase the thoughts and images that are spooking around in there.​

But inevitably it doesn't work. 

That's the problem with feelings, there's no on/off switch.  You can't only have the good stuff and turn the bad stuff off: it's like the quiet pedal on a piano - it quietens everything, so unless  you want to dull the shine on your happy, you're best leaving it. 

How can you make sense of the unthinkable?

Well you can't​.  It's impossible. They make no sense, but what you can do is help yourself through the shock and horror you feel.  Remember, it's normal to have these feelings. 

1. Write

I am a massive advocate of journaling, and writing at a time like this is an effective way to process your feelings, because it gets those feelings out and on paper and you don't have to hang on to them in your head.  

Write about your feelings of sadness and grief, and allow yourself to cry.  Write about your feelings of horror and fear.  Write about your feelings of compassion and love for the victims.  

And - importantly - write about your anger, because at times like this, anger is a normal and natural response.  Vent and rant, swear and rage and ​let it out.  

Writing is a great way to express your anger safely.  And remember, a facet of anger is passion, so you may feel compelled to do something to help.  Use your anger for good - fighting fire with fire only ever made more fire, so don't allow your anger to escalate into aggression or violence, but be a part of something that makes a positive change.

2. Talk

Now is a time to come together with others to talk, give and accept support.  At a time when the world seems a scary place, getting together with people you know and care about can be very grounding. 

3. Move​

For some people, hard exercise is beneficial as it produces an almost meditative state​, and for others something more gentle like yoga or a walk is very soothing.  

​4. Touch

Touch is a powerful thing, so hug someone. A person, a pet, it doesn't matter, it's all beneficial.

5. Relax​

Try meditation, guided imagery or prayer.

6.  Think of the helpers​

​Fred Rogers often told this story about when he was a boy and would see scary things on the news:

"My mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world." (from Snopes.com)


Let me finish with a short story:  I used to have some chickens - rescue hens, previously used in an intensive egg production farm.  These chicken are often naked when you get them, their feathers pecked off by themselves or other chickens as they live in cramped conditions, so if it's winter when you get them they have no way of keeping themselves warm.  

You know, there are people that knit little jumpers for these chickens to keep them warm.  Yes, they go to the trouble to actually knit for them so they don't get cold.  How wonderful is that? That warms my heart. 

And I remember that when the world seems cold.

Take very good care of yourself x​

​Don't just hope life will improve -

take control and make it happen today

About the Author Jane Travis

Hi, I'm Jane, and if you're the one that cares for and supports others, that gives and never takes and are exhausted because you put your own needs last, then you're in the right place. It's great to have you here - I hope you stick around!

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