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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Staying Emotionally Grounded During Difficult Times

We all go through difficult times at various points in our lives. Often, these are times when we can't control what is going on around us. All we can do during these times is to try to stay emotionally grounded to maintain our physical, mental and emotional well being. How each of us does that is a very individual process, and it helps to know or, at least, be willing to find out, what is helpful to you, in particular, to stay emotionally grounded.


Staying Emotionally Grounded

What Does It Mean to Be "Emotionally Grounded"?
People have different definitions for what it means to be emotionally grounded. For me, being emotionally grounded means that you are relatively calm and centered within yourself. You feel yourself to be whole and present.

Many times, when you're in a difficult situation, you might have to center yourself often throughout the day in order to cope. The 12 Step concept of "One Day at a Time," where you only deal with your problem in the present and not worry about what will happen too far in the future, can be modified to "One Hour at a Time" or even "One Minute at a Time" if it helps you get through it.

Even in very difficult situations, people often find ways to stay emotionally grounded by tapping into their own internal emotional resources as well as external resources among family, friends and their community. That doesn't mean that they don't suffer or feel grief or loss. It often means that whatever they're going through is mitigated by internal resources and external support.

How to Stay Emotionally Grounded:
Often, depending upon the situation and whatever else is going on in your life, being emotionally grounded means slowing down. Seemingly small steps can make a big difference.

For instance, for most people, when they're highly anxious, their breathing becomes shallow and constricted, which only makes them more anxious. So as strange as it might sound, these people need to remind themselves to breathe more deeply. It can be as simple as reminding yourself to take a deep breath from time to time to calm down your nervous system. You can also focus on the quality of your breath as you breathe in and breathe out. Focusing on taking in a calming breath and breathing out the tension that you feel can help to calm you down.

Feeling emotionally grounded can also mean that you focus on feeling your feet firmly on the ground. When you do that, you become aware that the ground beneath your feet is solid, and this can help you when you feel overwhelmed. Even in situations when you can't do deep breathing, you can almost always feel how solidly your feet are planted on the ground, and you can do this without anyone else being aware of what you're doing.

Your attitude in many situations can also make a big difference in allowing you to feel emotionally grounded. So, for example, if you're dealing with someone who is being difficult, your attitude in the situation can make the difference between feeling grounded and feeling upset.

One example of this is when you're dealing with an angry coworker. If you respond to your angry coworker by becoming hostile yourself, you're just adding "logs to the fire." Both of your emotions will escalate and make the situation worse. So, at those times, when you might feel like lashing right back at your coworker, it's better to take a moment, breathe, think twice, and try to find a centered place within yourself. This isn't easy, especially when you're first learning to feel emotionally grounded in difficult situations. But if can be of enormous benefit to you and the other person.

It's usually a good idea to remember that the other person's hostile behavior might not really have anything to do with you, even though you might be the recipient of it. Many years ago, when I was a human resource manager, I remember receiving a call from a department manager about an employee who snapped at a coworker, which resulted in a loud argument in the office. The manager told me that Jane (not her real name) was usually cheerful and friendly, and it was very uncharacteristic of her to snap in this way.

When Jane came to my office, she was already feeling remorse for her outburst. She went on to say that her husband was just hospitalized and she was very worried about him. She also said that she had hardly slept in the last few days, and she was feeling tired and irritable. It was clear from what she said that she had not asked friends or family for any support because she felt that she "should" be able to handle this on her own. She also felt overwhelmed by the hospital system. On a practical level, I talked to Jane about what she could do to talk to the doctors, nurses and the social workers at the hospital who were involved in her husband's care to ensure that her husband would get appropriate treatment and a good discharge plan. On an emotional level, we talked about how she could elicit emotional support from her environment and how difficult this was for her.

After our talk, Jane breathed a sigh of relief, and she went back to her office and apologized to her coworker. Jane and her coworker had worked together for many years, and the coworker was immediately forgiving and accepting of Jane's apology when she heard about Jane's husband's hospitalization. She was also sorry for snapping back at Jane and not realizing that something else might have been going on. When I spoke to Jane's coworker (let's call her Mary), Mary told me that she also felt overwhelmed by her grandchildren, who were staying with her for a month. So, it was apparent that Mary was also going through her own personal challenges.

When I checked back with Jane, Mary, and the manager a week later, they each told me that the situation was resolved. Jane and Mary also told me that, because of this situation, they learned to try not to personalize another person's reactions towards them, and that a person's reaction might not have anything to do with them. Jane also told me that she was feeling better because she asked her sister for support, and her sister came to stay with her.

Stress Management:
Rather than waiting until something happens to learn to feel emotionally grounded, it's usually best to find ways to manage your every day stress. This could mean learning to meditate, taking yoga classes, going for regular walks or other things that you might enjoy that help to reduce your daily stress. If you learn to manage your stress on a daily basis, more than likely, you'll cope better when difficult situations arise.

You will also build and strengthen your resilience. A sense of resilience is just as important as feeling emotionally grounded when you're faced with difficult challenges. Being resilient means that you're more likely to bounce back from hard times. When someone is emotionally resilient, he or she is more likely to cope better with hard times than someone who is not. Even if you don't start out being very resilient, you can learn to build your sense of resilience and this is something that I often focus on with new and existing clients.

When new clients come to see me in my psychotherapy private practice, early on, I usually ask them about their coping strategies and I get a sense of their emotional resilience. If their coping strategies are limited, this often becomes one of our first priorities. In the beginning, it's a matter of finding out what works best for each of them and what they will be most likely to do on a regular basis to reduce their stress and increase their emotional resilience.

Learning to be emotionally grounded is a skill like many other skills--the more you practice it, the better you get at it and the easier it becomes for you. And the more skilled you become at being emotionally grounded, the better it will be for your overall health, resilience, and well being.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, and Somatic Experiencing  therapist.

I work with individuals and couples, and I have helped many clients to learn to become more emotionally grounded.

To find out more about me, visit my web site: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.


photo credit: Jos van Wunnik via photopin cc

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