Monday, January 7, 2013

Emotional Boundaries: How to Hold Your Ground in the Midst of Fear and Chaos

So… as you might imagine, being a psychologist, at times, can be an intense job—people's stories pulling on my heart strings, as well as their stress and emotions tugging at my nervous system. Being able to stay grounded is at the heart of what I do.

So how do you do it, you might ask? How do I hear the sorrows and woes of others without becoming stressed or overwhelmed myself? Well, after years of practice, I've learned a few tricks of the trade and I thought I'd share them with you.

But before I share my secrets, there are a few things you need to understand about people and their emotional states. First of all, emotions can be contagious—negative emotions spreading from one person to another like some infectious disease or fungal outbreak, positive emotions spreading as quickly as a gentle smile and a few kinds words. Which way it will go, an infectious contagion or infectious good cheer largely depends on how we respond to the emotions of others.

You see, human beings are much like a tuning fork. A calm, grounded individual can be a calming presence to someone who is stressed just by being calm - what they say or do isn't as important as how they are saying or doing it - whether their words and actions come from a place of fear or a place of presence. Imagine what would have happened if Chicken Little, when frantically trying to make her way to the King because the sky was falling, had come across a calm, grounded Turkey Lurkey. The story might have turned out very differently, don't you think?

But beware: the emotions of others can pull us out of our sense of calm, leading us into a whirlwind of emotion. (Chicken Little is a great example of this, and look at what happened in that tragic tale—All of the farm animals were pulled into Chicken Little's fear, and followed her around to find the King only to be led straight into a dark cave and eaten by a fox.  Ahh, such needless suffering…)

I don't want you to fall to the same fate, so here's a few pointers that might help you stay present and calm even though those around you are overwhelmed by fear and strong emotion:

1) Notice your Breath: Very often when we are stressed, we are not breathing to our full capacity. It is the breath that separates us from life or death, quite literally, and if we are not breathing, we are generally not calm. So slow your breath down, nudging it into deep, even inhales and exhales. The breath calms the body, which calms the mind.

2) Notice your Body: Are you feeling tension anywhere? Bracing yourself in any way? If you are, notice it and see if you can bring awareness to it, letting it soften and let go with every exhale.

3) Notice your Posture: Are you leaning forward, all hunched over, stifling the breath? Are you leaning back, almost as if to avoid the intensity of the emotion coming at you? Neither will do. The term "being centered" means that quite literally - we need a long spine, vertebrae stacked on top of one another, our feet connected to the earth, our head and heart open to the sky in order to be "centered", as it opens up the breath, which gives us both the energy and the wisdom to deal with the situation skillfully.

4) Notice your Surroundings: Do you know where you are? Or has the stress of the other person made the physical environment a blur? Tune into the five senses, letting your eyes take in whatever you see around, your ears resting on whatever sounds they notice, and so on. Bringing our awareness to what's around us can help us regain perspective and help us see the wisdom of the big picture.

5) Trust What Comes: When we are present, we are in tune with others and our environment, and our words and actions seem to be just what is needed. Trust that you will say and do exactly what the situation requires.

6) Repeat the Above Over and Over, as Needed: Being grounded and present is not a static state - it is something we must tune into over and over again.

© All Rights Reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay
www.knottedwordscelticart.comTwitter: @AngelaDMac