Tag Archives: Mindfulness

How to deal with emotional overwhelm

‘Tell me one last thing,’ said Harry {to Dumbledore}.  ‘Is this real?  Or has this been happening inside my head?’ Of course it is happening inside your head,  Harry,  but why on earth should that mean it is not real?’

Quote from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” Part 7; p 579 by J.K. Rowling
Photo credit:  Wikia 

What is real?

As I have been reading the Harry Potter series,  I came across the above quote near the end.  It is a question that swirls through my head on a regular basis.  Recently many memories are coming to the surface.  Neither real bad,  nor very pleasant.  They just are.

Just like Dumbledore I know that my thoughts, feelings,  understanding etc. from those memories are real.  And as such they are part of my truth.  It is my perception of that event when it happened.  Even though my parents perception of that same event completely differs,  my experience is still valid ánd real.

Then,  something occurs,  that emotionally overwhelms us,  we overreact and don’t understand what is going on.  To make life more complicated,  we can overreact because of two reasons:  because of how our bipolar mind works,  and/or because of past traumatic events.

What we have to realize,  is that an occurrence today will also tap into our emotions from the past and emotions trump.  It means that the two merge and cause our emotions to intensify and overwhelm us which in turn causes our response to be much stronger than the present situation warrants.

The challenge is this:  to respond to todays event with the appropriate action without being able to trust our emotions.   In other words,  to be aware that an event is a trigger to past events,  check ourselves and keep a reign on our emotions.

how to dealw with emotional overwhelm

How do we achieve that?

I find I have to step back sometimes when I feel overwhelmed.

Being aware of our bipolar and trauma triggers.  I can never stress it enough:  we need to be(come) students of our own life!!!

Once we know what is triggered,  it is important to attribute our feelings.  If it is the bipolar disorder brain or if it is an overreaction because of,  for instance, a certain trauma,  we label it accordingly.  Then we give it value:  do we want it or not?  Is it in our best interest?  Maybe we have to take note and work on it with a counselor or talk it over with a friend or support group.

The next step is to focus on the here and now and practise mindfulness.  Why the here and now?  Because a bipolar mood as well as unprocessed trauma will always drag us to the past or the future.  The past might be full of memories that trip us,  the future is full of ‘might-be’ and ‘ifs’ causing anxiety and fear.  It all feeds into our emotional system and as a result we get easily overwhelmed or hijacked by what we feel.

Real life example

As far as I can I have made peace with the total abandonment my mother subjected me to.  I am in a much better place than I have ever been.  Yet,  if something happens that triggers those feelings of abandonement… it is still a hard nut to crack!

Recently I met an old friend,  we used to have a deep friendship that stopped quite a number of years ago.  We made an appointment for coffee later that week.  

Afterwards,  my emotions were out of whack and I wondered what was going on.  I figured (amongst some other things that were happening) that the old emotions were surfacing of the time our friendship shipwrecked.  I was really angry.  More than the situation warranted.  

So I thought some more and realized I felt abandoned by her… and that triggers the abandonment issue with my mom which is very strong powerful stuff.  

I decided to use my anger in the here and now to keep a safe distance between her and me.  I also figured out what I wanted to say if the issue came up.  

When we met for coffee I was calm and I had a strategy in place to end the time together early if I felt I needed or wanted that.  It worked out fine – in that the issue came up,  I calmly explained my side and we will see what happens next.  

Afterwards I talked the situation over with my counselor. 

When we apply these steps,  like in my example above,  it is possible to deal with triggers and the emotional overwhelm it causes.

Step back, take stock, be mindful and live in the here and now!

Photo credit:  dvs

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Beware of …

Photo credit: Tim Green  

Beware = To be aware

Being aware of this moment.  Right now.  My breathing.  How I am sitting.  On what.  The smell of the air.  The tulips next to me.  Their color.

Everything that connects me with the here and now.  Accepting of what I think and feel.  Focusing on my surroundings,  on what is going on inside and outside of me.

Being.  Be-ing.  To actively “be.”  In the here and now.  Using my senses.  What do I see,  smell,  hear,  touch,  think,  right at this moment.  And the next moment.  And the next.  And the next.

Mindfulness…

Roots and meaning of mindfulness

What is called mindfulness today is not a new phenomenon.

The early fathers of the Eastern Christian Church talked about “nepsis” which means “vigilance and watchfulness of the mind and heart.”

Mindfulness as such,  is the seventh step  of the noble eightfold path in Buddhism.

However,  mindfulness is not inherent religious and is often taught independent of its religious or cultural background.

Mindfulness,  according to Wikipedia refers to a psychological quality that involves:

  1. bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis
  2. paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgment
  3. a kind of nonelaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is

What’s that got to do with me?

Wouldn’t you like to know… hehehe!

In 1979 Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts to treat the chronically ill.  It all spun off from there.  Mindfulness has become very popular in last couple of decades and made its way into various types of therapy.

So.

Now onto the real stuff:

For us bipolars,  learning to be in the here and now is a very important exercise.  When emotions overwhelm us and we can lead ourselves back to what is happening right now,  it helps calm down the earthquake within. When we are down and practically unaware of what is going on,  focusing on the here and now helps us to take one step further out of the pit.  When our thoughts are racing so fast our mouth can’t keep up,  it’s good to know how to shut it and get out of the race by actively being in the moment.

Just to name a few examples.

This is all the practice of mindfulness.  It takes time to learn.  Practice indeed!

Why is it important?

Numbers refer to the above mentioned list.

  • It takes us out of our bipolar moment into the ‘outside’ world.  (1)
  • Being aware of the outside world,  focused on our surroundings,  it helps to ground us. (1)
  • Being grounded helps us to gain stability. (1)
  • Having stability,  we can start the process of understanding what is actually going on inside of us. (2)
  • Knowing what is going on inside of us helps us to take proper action. (2) (3)
  • Taking proper action gives us control instead of being controlled.
  • Having control makes us feel better.
  • It also makes those around us feel better.

What I like so much about mindfulness is the emphasis on being nonjudgmental ~  everything we feel,  think or sense is acknowledged,  allowing it to exist.  It is the acceptance of what is.  To let it be.

Often times I am plagued more by my own attitude towards myself (judgmental,  rejective,  stuffing all sensations and feelings down) than what others might or might not do or think!  Ever have this feeling you are your own worst enemy?  Yup,  me too.

Becoming mindful leads me to the opposite,  the good stuff.  Yay for mindfulness!

Do you have any experience with practicing mindfulness?
Please let me know in the comments below or through the ‘Contact me’ form which you find at the top of the header.  Thank you!

Further reading suggestion:
Using Mindfulness for Bipolar Disorder by Shamash Alidina ~ Bipolar Beat

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