Julie Hanks, LCSW, a therapist and blogger at Psych Central, works with many clients who are besieged by stress. What her clients typically discover is that they aren’t necessarily overwhelmed by stress, they’re overwhelmed by their emotions.
“As [my clients] learn to unpack the anxiety, they discover that their worry, stress, and sense of impending doom is the not just anxiety, but the culmination of years of unprocessed emotions of all kinds,” said Hanks, who’s also a media contributor and private practice consultant. “Anxiety is often the label that clients have given to the experience of being emotionally overwhelmed.”
So the key is to get to your core emotions. It might be tricky to identify these emotions, Hanks said, but doing so lets you know what you really need to feel better.
She offered these four tools to spot your core emotions.
- Spend several minutes each day tuning into your body. We “feel” emotions in our bodies, so paying attention to our physical cues can help us identify our emotions, Hanks said. For instance, whenever she’s anxious, Hanks gets a tight feeling in her chest and shoulders, and her breathing gets shallow.
- Ask yourself, “What’s really bothering me?” Dig deeper to see what’s stressing you out. For instance, right now, for Hanks that’s a book revision deadline, a family situation and an impending move for her clinic.
- Ask yourself, “What do I need to feel emotionally calm and comforted?” For example, to feel like she’s capable of completing her book revisions, Hanks will ask her husband for reassurance – and a backrub. To figure out her family situation, she’ll turn to a friend who’s going through something similar for support. In order to make her move less stressful, she’ll work on organizing her to-do list, delegate tasks and engage in positive self-talk.
- Ask for your emotional need to be met. This might mean articulating your need to a loved one. For instance, Hanks might say to her husband, “I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed about this book deadline. I need to hear that you believe in me and I could really use a shoulder rub.”
Learning how to acknowledge and attend to your core emotions and find healthy ways to cope is an effective way to manage stress, Hanks said.
What tends to underlie your anxiety?
What helps you heal during stressful times?