Navigating Stress During Uncertain Times
Take control and choose how YOU want to feel – during and after the pandemic.
These are unpredictable times. Times when fears and anxieties can become a daily part of life for even the calmest of souls.
Every single one of us is being affected by the current situation, in some shape or form. There are many things that are out of our control and that will remain so over the coming weeks and months, as the trickle-down effects of the global pandemic continue to be felt.
Long before the current situation, the world already had a mental health crisis on its hands. In Canada, 1 in 5 adults will experience mental illness. In the USA, nearly 50 million adults experienced some form of mental illness in the past year.
Just as we have had to make major changes to our lives to stop the spread of the virus causing COVID-19 and look after ourselves physically, we also need to take urgent steps to safeguard and optimize our mental health. Now more than ever.
We can do this through gaining emotional control.
Having emotional control does not mean being unemotional. Emotions are the foundation of your existence. They give variety, flavour, and meaning to life, and all you experience in it. Including your experience of the pandemic.
The last thing you want to do is “flat-line” your emotions during this time (i.e. ignore them, pretend they don’t exist, or down-play them. Everyone is feeling some degree of negative emotion at the moment in response to the current situation (frustration, worry, sadness, etc.). That’s normal. All you need to do is keep them within a healthy range.
Positive emotions are, almost by definition, healthy – happiness, joy, love, excitement, enthusiasm. On the other hand, negative emotions fall into 2 categories: Healthy and unhealthy.
There are 3 primary healthy negative emotional groupings: Sadness, concern, and frustration. These healthy negative emotions can become unhealthy when they are inflated and expressed as depression, anxiety, and anger/rage.
Some people have defended unhealthy emotions such as anger by saying, “But anger is good. It gets people to instigate change; to do things.” This is true. Anger can be motivating. It's definitely not boring. It gets the heart pounding even. But the real issue is that anger is simply an exaggeration of frustration. Everything positive that anger gives you actually comes from the frustration.
Frustration gets you off your chair to protest, take charge or take a stand against injustice. But anger will lead you to intimidate others or get them to war against you. Anger will get you to unnecessarily act aggressively, help to create an adversary, raise your blood pressure, and aggravate health conditions like ulcers and asthma.
An inflation of ‘sadness’ is depression. Exaggerate ‘concern’ and you get anxiety. Amplify the emotion of ‘frustration’ and you will get anger or rage.
The few positives that occasionally occur when emotions are intensified, come from the underlying sadness, concern and frustration, and not from the depression, anxiety or anger.
Unhealthy emotions tend to keep you stuck, rigid and emotionally trapped.
And from maintaining physical distance, to the strain on our relationships of quarantine, to parenting and homeschooling and working all at once, to watching over our physical health, to battling sickness, to losing loved ones, to experiencing financial strain and job loss, to the lack of variety in our daily lives… most of us are experiencing both types of negative emotions more than ever.
Emotional control is about developing the ability to determine, with a good degree of certainty, how you will choose to feel. Healthy emotions promote psychological flexibility, better relationships, enhanced functionality, wiser decision making and greater creativity (for solving problems).
Unhealthy emotions can keep you stuck in your own dysfunction, which leads to more distress, less creativity, poor decisions and relationships that help to reinforce and support your own special brand of craziness.
Emotional control is the ability to control, navigate or consciously decide on which particular emotions you will have. Perfection isn’t the goal; a healthy range of emotional response is the goal.
Here are 3 strategies to take control of the 3 most dominant healthy negative emotions during this challenging time, and avoid inflating them into the unhealthy negative emotions of depression, anxiety, or anger.
1. How to avoid Sadness turning into Depression
Sadness is past oriented and is a normal and a healthy expression of disappointment. Sadness turns into depression when the situation is viewed as hopeless and the future looks bleak. That can be a tempting thought nowadays. Instead, focus on resolving real issues, and keep looking forward to better days. Over time the sadness will dissipate as you move forward, making today and tomorrow better.
2. How to avoid Concern turning into Anxiety
Anxiety and worry are future oriented emotions that focus on the negative. Unless you know something negative is about to happen, the future is a neutral. You don’t actually know if it will be positive or negative. When faced with a neutral, assume a positive outcome. If it’s negative, you’ll deal with it at the time. Trust that you can overcome adversity. If you know you going to be up against something negative, get prepared to resolve issues and know your load will lighten in the future.
3. How to avoid Frustration turning into Anger
How often have you been angry over something that in 10 minutes no longer matters? Anger usually stems from hanging onto the past and fretting over something that you believe should not have happened. Rightly or wrongly, what happened is in the past. It’s over. Ask yourself what you can do today to accept or resolve the situation. Be calm, find compromise or refocus. Don’t let the injustices of life keep you stuck. Work toward an accepting attitude while taking charge. Focus on making today wonderful... for you and those around you.