Tools for Hard Emotions

Tools for Hard Emotions

This is a post about struggling and reaching out and being met with care. I’m writing it up because sometimes these moments of collective care pass quickly, and I want to document this. Not only to remember that I, personally and specifically, was met with so much wisdom and care but also to share some of the wisdom with anyone else finding themselves in a tough spot. Maybe there is something here that will help you. Maybe you will add to this list of ideas. Maybe you will send it to someone else who needs it. 

Sometimes it is nice to know that even in the hard moments, even when we are really struggling, out there in the world there are other people who have also struggled and who have gotten through. There are a few things that I hold onto when I am at my lowest, and this is one of them – no matter what is happening, someone, somewhere, at some point, has struggled like this. No matter what is happening and no matter how hard it is, I am not truly alone in it. There is a way through. People have made their way through. Maybe that means I can get through, too.

Last month, in the week after Father’s Day, I had a couple of really tough days*. 

In the middle of the worst of it, when I couldn’t get my body to calm, and my chest hurt and my head hurt and I couldn’t catch my breath, I came to facebook and posted. I said, Alright pals, I had some Hard Emotions and now my chest hurts and my head hurts and I can’t make it stop. Hit me with your best tools for soothing that inner “something is hurting me and I can’t make it stop” thing.

My community met me with care.

Here is an expanded list of the tools people shared (anonymized and consolidated):

  • Jump into the shower (this was shared by lots of folks, and it is one thing that I did for myself that day!)
  • Tap the bone behind your ear
  • Put heat or cool on the back of your neck
  • Use white noise, like ambient starship or forest noises or rain
  • Remember that you will fuck up, like we all do, but you get up and keep trying and that’s all we can ask. You are already making a personalized microverse around you of a just and right and kind and soft world.
  • A purring kitty. Belly rubs.
  • Connection with someone – coffee, walk, dinner… something in person 
  • Connect with a therapist
  • Listen to a soundtrack or playlist that has been created for these times, maybe something you can sing along to, or something that brings specific feelings or memories
  • Making jam
  • Asking someone to hold you close and tight
  • Going for a walk (with yourself, a person, or a furbeast)
  • Videos! Many folks suggested this, and the suggestions included otter videos, videos of tiny edible food being made on tiny functional kitchen sets, the f*ck that meditation video, puppies vs kittens, Great British Baking Show or Nailed It (season 1 episode 6 for cry-laughing), 
  • Havening or TRE. (These are both somatic or psychosensory therapies. Here is some info on havening and here is some info on TRE.)
  • Know that it is useful/helpful to know that you are doing badly. Seeing the hardness is useful.
  • Stop what feels ‘important’ because your own self deserves to be ‘most important’ right now
  • Make some tea
  • Light a candle and wrap yourself in a blanket and spend some time with your little self. Have a conversation asking what you can do to help them feel safe and loved.
  • Roll up in a blanket like a burrito and lay on your stomach on the floor
  • Video games, because you can control those and empower yourself
  • Cosplay (this one reminded me of the Gloom Fairy costumes I used to put on when things were very bad)
  • Write it down and turn it into a poem. Then look through your photos and find one that makes, and if not, take one that could match.
  • Let go in a temporary way if you’re not ready to let go all the way. Give yourself permission to return to the feelings as needed.
  • Going under your bed
  • Saying yes to the hurt, not to the hurting. As in: yes, hurt is visiting. Then host it for a little while. What sort of tea does this hurt like to drink? Is it cold? Would a shower or blanket help? Remember that you are bigger than the hurt. You are the home it is visiting, and there are lots of tools within you to make it as cozy as possible for its stay within you. (Someone else responded to this wisdom by sharing this quote – “You need to try to master the ability to feel sad without actually being sad.” Mingyur Rinpoche)
  • Impulse buy something (with a note that the person who shared this isn’t always happy with this strategy – I appreciate being able to share the ‘less preferable’ strategies as well, because sometimes that’s what’s available!)
  • Message a close friend and ask why they are your friend
  • Talk with someone who will listen and care without trying to solve the issue
  • Downward dog or child’s pose, with as much intentional breath as possible

And there was a whole category of strategies related to ‘releasing the energy’. Some ideas for releasing that energy included:

  • walking
  • connecting with someone else
  • screaming
  • crying (maybe in the shower)
  • jumping
  • shaking your body
  • breaking something that can be broken
  • writhing
  • grabbing some clay and smashing it (it is the earth and can hold all the feels, be destroyed and come back)
  • feeling something beneath you and knowing that what is solid can hold you and when you are ready you will hold onto yourself again
  • keening (a low sound with each exhale through loosely pursed lips, like the sound of the wind through a partially open window, or blowing over the top of a pop bottle, changing the pitch up and down as the emotions move through)

Is there anything you would add to this list?

Has anything on this list been helpful to you in the past?

For myself, I got into the shower and cried a lot while listening to Regina Spektor very loud on my phone. It helped. 

Would you like to see this list turned into a zine? I was thinking about making a few more illustrations and printing it, and then I could mail it out to folks who want it. But even if it never gets to paper, it is a great list to have access to. I am thankful.

* This post isn’t about those tough days, but patrons got that little story. You can support my patreon here.