Managing Distress and Trapped Emotions

There are times when all my good habits and intentions let me down and I find myself in a time of distress. I can learn how to manage this in an appropriate manner.

Sometimes, I am overwhelmed. It can be panic attacks, anxiety, overwhelming depression, distress, loneliness, grumpiness, explosive anger. It can be triggered by an external cause but also can arise out of nowhere. It feels like an uncontrollable state.

I think there are several causes of these periods. First, my brain goes into a fight or flight response, hampering my ability to reason. I am looking for action or escape, even when neither of these responses is appropriate. Second, it can be a temptation. Devils and evil spirits work on me to keep me away from righteousness. Third, it can be a chemical imbalance where my brain does not work properly, usually mixed with environmental conditions. And finally, it can be caused by an outside trigger or event.

Whatever the cause, when I am in the throes of an attack, I seem to have very little control over my own thoughts and actions. Just trying to control myself and snap out of it is usually ineffective. I know I’m not in a good state of mind, but the capacity to get out of it is very difficult and seemingly impossible. It is like I am in a black hole, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot climb out.

But I can learn to control this in an appropriate manner. I can give myself a ladder to climb out: steps that will enable me to get out of even the darkest hole. Prevention is the best option, and following the other steps in this book is the main course for prevention. Responding appropriately to my feelings on an ongoing basis will ensure the best chance to avoid pits.

Step 1: Recognition
I don’t like where I am at, I’m in danger.

The first step is the recognition that I am in such a state. I’m in a pit. My thoughts are no longer rational, my emotions are overblown, and there will be great opposition to getting myself out of the pit.

Warning signs can be racing thoughts, stress in my life, and feelings of being overwhelmed or trapped. I can feel grumpiness, frustrated or annoyed over small things, and irrational anger. Often my feelings turn to all or nothing, black or white frames of mind. I blame myself or others, I feel hopeless. I don’t feel excited about anything, and often want to check out of life, often through distractions. In short, it is any thought, feeling or emotions that is dark and seems to drag me downwards.

The idea is to catch myself before these feelings become too overwhelming: it will ensure a more rapid recovery and prevent regretful actions. But at any point, recognition that I am currently out of control, or soon will be is vital.

Recognizing it as early as possible is really helpful.

Step 2: Pause
Stop, take no action

After recognition, take a minute to STOP. Stop whatever I am trying to do, turn off the phone, or stop interacting with people (a short, polite excusal, such as “I need to go to the bathroom” can work well). If necessary, find somewhere to be by myself; but try to keep isolation short and productive. Isolation can also help me to dig myself into the pit more: the main goal is simply to give myself time away from people so I do not harm or blame them.

Pausing involves committing to not talk or act until I am calmed down. If I need to, I find a safe zone where I can go so that I won’t harm myself or anyone else. Friends or family can be there, or I try an impersonal public area like a park, library, or store.

Step 3: Relax
Relax, speak truth

I use self-soothing techniques to calm myself down. There are many techniques. Some of my favorites are deep, rhythmic breathing, focusing on each of my five senses in turn, listening to relaxing sounds or music, recalling a pleasant memory, visualizing something relaxing, giving a little half-smile, connecting small movements to counting, breath or rhythm, like tapping my hands. Walking, writing and drawing can also work, especially if I’m extremely agitated and need something more concrete. A shocking sensation like cold water, gasp, the snap of a rubber band, or mild electric shock can help jumpstart the process.

And this time is also a great time to commit to speaking truth. Many things in my thoughts are not truths: they are simply my judgments, perceptions or outright lies I tell myself. Truth is generally simpler, and less damaging.

Step 4: Validation and Acceptance
I am feeling…

I begin by observing how I feel. I stop any fighting I am doing with myself and radically accept the way I currently feel. Even if I feel like I will be worse off if I accept it: I do it anyway. I don’t act on my feelings; I just accept my current emotional state. I feel all those negative feelings. I try to not get caught up in the story of the emotions too much. Instead, I focus on the physical sensation and I don’t try to judge or explain what I feel. It often helps to validate feelings by labeling them.

When it feels far too overwhelming, I take a step back from the situation and try to envision it as if I was watching it on the TV screen. I can describe the actions I took, the situation that happened as well, but as mentioned before, avoid judgment and keep it truthful. Sometimes it also helps to continue to imagine the situation continuing, and what would happen if I continued with the negative emotions I feel: imagining a worst-case scenario, so I can better understand how I feel, and the consequence of those feelings. Expression can also be done through prayer and writing.

I like the term “radical acceptance” because it sort of tells yourself that accepting things can be hard—but it’s also possible. You can’t change what happened. You can change what you will do in the future.

Step 5: Goodness
God is in my life: to return to goodness, I will….

I start this step with faith in a higher power, and commitment to God and Christ. If I walk with Christ and follow His will, He will forgive my sins. Because of the atonement, Christ can have power in my life. Prayer can be an excellent way to invite God to help me. Reading or reciting scripture is also very powerful.

If I feel it is appropriate, I can rebuke evil spirits and bad feelings. I commit to giving up bad feelings or experiences, asking the Lord to remove weakness, sin and negative emotion. It is also necessary to recognize and give up not only the feeling but the action or misperception that caused that feeling. I learn to identify wrong beliefs and correct them.

It is important to acknowledge what I am grateful for. I can use imagery and past experiences to remember the good in my life, and commit to returning to that state.

Step 6: Different Path
I choose….I feel…I am…

I commit to changing my direction and returning to goodness. I try to follow a middle path that acknowledges both my feelings and thoughts, to proceed with a wise mind. Pattern interrupting is a good tool. Imagine the unwanted pattern, break down the steps, and put them back together in a way that is more desirable. Rehearsing, or imagining things going right, is also effective. Using pros and cons or different approaches to the situation can help me visualize results and the correct action to take.

I might acknowledge a feeling, and realize that I need to act on it, that it originated from a need to take actions. But I might also recognize that the feeling would not lead to appropriate action, and choose not to act on it.

I ask myself to locate the origin of these thoughts or feelings and heal them with forgiveness and acceptance. I replace the darkness with light, that I may be filled with joyful emotion. I may also set an anchor, or associate the desired outcome with a movement or word that I can repeat.

Step 7: Act

The final step is to get up and do something. This can be a return to my life or the action I was performing when I paused. It is also an excellent idea to engage in a rejuvenating experience.
This can be exercise, naps, doing something creative, positive distraction through media or book, especially something that makes you laugh, walks, hikes, service, play, baths, writing, associating with friends, reading, etc.

A good idea is often to put distance between myself and the current problem if needed. Rumination is not an appropriate action. I can work to directly solve a problem but should do so with appropriate boundaries and limits.

It’s important to remember that I have control of myself: I can work contrary to an emotion if bad feelings continue. I can push a situation away and deal with it later, force myself to think of something else and force myself to have positive thoughts. I can make my actions consistent with my character: my thoughts consistent with who I want to be, instead of who I feel like being.

After: Repair

Repair is crucial to continue to not experience bad emotion. This includes making positive deposits to my emotional state and to others around me. Incorrect perceptions need to be corrected. Buried feelings may need to be addressed and let go of; amends need to be made if necessary. And most of all, it needs to be done with an attitude of forgiving myself. I can damage myself and those around me, with idle words, bad feelings, and incorrect actions: but I also have the power to repair them, with the help of God.

During repair, it is essential to practice self-compassion and reduce self-condemnation and shame or blame. My mistakes and feeling do not need to define me: beating myself up over every less than ideal circumstance can be very damaging. Self-forgiveness is a very powerful choice.

I can use a similar process when I’m also helping others through their difficult emotions.

You can practice these steps often, even when you aren’t in distress. Sometimes it’s really hard to train yourself to deal with intense emotions because the only time you address it is when you have intense emotions. Doing it during smaller, calmer moments can be really helpful in learning how to manage the bigger outbursts.

Trapped Emotions

Trapped emotions happen with incorrect perceptions and emotions that are not dealt with at the initial occurrence. The feelings I have that are “buried alive” often lead to perceptions that cloud my daily life and later feelings that seemingly arise out of nowhere.

Our trapped emotions are often expressed in incorrect perceptions. Often, I use such a perception to understand and deal with a problem. It might even be appropriate in that situation, but then it is applied to an overly large area and hampers me in my regular development.

For example, as a small child in a large family, I distinctly remember a time that I choose not to tell my mom what happened, even when she asked. I did not feel like sharing the story would be beneficial to me: I was slightly afraid of my mother getting upset at me or not listening and understanding. I developed the incorrect perception that it was courageous that my voice was not heard.

For many years, I applied this incorrect perception to many areas, and would at times be quite shy and soft-spoken. In my adulthood, I remember that first experience and could correct and heal the trapped emotion and incorrect perception. I no longer was overcome with feelings of not being heard or keeping my voice inside even when it was valuable to speak.

I think when I am working on trapped emotions, it’s important to realize that it isn’t anyone’s fault that such an event happened. It wasn’t my mother’s fault that I felt I might not be listened to: and it wasn’t my fault that I developed an incorrect coping mechanism. Even when someone does something directly wrong to me, or I do something wrong: it doesn’t matter about the event. It matters how I responded. And sometimes my response can cause a trapped emotion, but this can be readily healed.

There are different methods for releasing trapped emotions, but they usually involved three simple steps.

  1. Identification: correctly identify an incorrect perception or trapped emotion in succinct terms, or as a memory of an event
  2. Intent: Have the intent to release, heal, and correct what you identified
  3. Action: Perform some action that releases the feeling, and replaces it in a positive manner. I have seen this done with breath, tapping, massage, spoken words or writing, visualization, or reciting a script.

There isn’t one right or wrong way to do it, and lots of methods: I try to find the one that is simple and easy for me to use.

Buried Problems

Another similar problem I often experience is burying problems instead of finding solutions. It might seem like a good option: to just not worry about something, ignore it, and it will resolve on its own, or I just accept that life is like that. Many time these buried, ignored problems, come back with a vengeance, causing even more issues and problems.

Identifying them is not always easy. Sometimes I’ve put them so far away from my conscious, that they aren’t readily identifiable and accessible. But often, after exhausting options of trapped emotions and mindfulness, the next step is to think of problems and issues that have not been properly dealt with. Talking to others that know about me and my life is very helpful. Free writing, talking, and meditation can all be used to resurface the problem.

After resurfacing, I find ways to act and find a solution: don’t just bury the problem again. Keep it in the foreground of my life, until a more acceptable solution is found. Most of my problems are solvable: I might need new ideas from outside sources when I find I cannot solve it on my own. But help is out there: my family, friends, church leaders, and professionals can help me when I find myself stuck.

It’s also really helpful to work on solutions when you are not currently upset about a problem. Bring it up in calmer times, and you might find that the solution is easy, and you can put into effect. Always waiting for the time when the problem surfaces means that you’re always in an intense, emotional state of mind when you are trying to find solutions. That’s not incredibly helpful.

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