Your Personal Emotional First Aid Kit

This was written during the 3rd week (or 4th? Time is weird during a lockdown) of my self-isolation. However, the techniques presented are useful anytime life gets rocky!

I’ve been on a crazy emotional rollercoaster the past few weeks.

Sometimes I’m racked with despair for the world, filled with grief and sadness at all we are losing and have lost. From the heaviness of the death of a beloved to the relatively petty but still very real disappointment of canceled plans, the amount of loss is breathtaking.

Sometimes I’m filled with rage at the response or lack thereof of my governmental officials, local businesses, neighbors, and even myself.

Sometimes I feel empowered and hyper-conscious as I find the positive and good in others around me, doing the best they can with heroic efforts.

Sometimes, all I can taste is the bland nothingness of boredom.

Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed and stressed at how busy I manage to make myself, even while never leaving my house.

No matter how you slice it, it’s a lot.

I find myself relying on my training more than even in the depths of my tantra schooling.

The meditations and techniques I’ve been practicing for years for relatively niche personal development reasons have now become absolutely essential to get through the day.

What I initially learned as a path toward abstract concepts like “enlightenment” and “emotional liberation” has become a life-line keeping me sane. I’ve used my learning to help me process horrific headlines, after comforting an anxious or depressed friends, and countless other recent situations.

Working with professionals is an ideal, transformative way to approach emotional healing. But in the context of social distancing, mass layoffs, and a health care system that’s a dumpster fire in the best of times, seeking professional help may not be an option for you.

So here are the tools I use to manage all the feelings that come up. I’m not a doctor or psychologist, this is just what I’ve been using and have found helpful.

But they’ve been so effective for me in this moment I just had to share them. (Thanks internet!)

You’ll find two exercises below. The first, Resourcing, is for when you are completely overwhelmed, triggered as hell, and can barely function. If you want to dive deeper into how resourcing works and what it is I write more about it in this article.

The second, RAIN, is for when you are feeling intense feelings, but you’re not overwhelmed. It’s ideal to do Resourcing and then RAIN in succession but if you’re crunched for time, just do whichever exercise seems like the most helpful for your present-moment experience.

If these seem like good exercises for you but reading them on a page doesn’t seem like the most useful format, I recommend recording yourself reading the instructions on a voice memo.

Feel free to tailor this practice and really make it your own. Hit play and pause as needed to time it out perfectly for what you need.

Resourcing

Use when: “I’m triggered as hell and completely overwhelmed.”

  1. Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your lower belly. Touching these parts makes your lizard brain think you’re getting a hug or being held and starts calming you down.
  2. Breathe. Breathe DEEP. Inhale for 5 seconds (one Mississippi… two Mississippi…) and exhale for 5 seconds. Repeat for as many breaths as your intuition says is right.
  3. Feel gravity pulling on you. Feel your feet on the floor or your butt in the chair. Feel the floor or ground supporting your weight. Feel yourself being held by the earth.
  4. Notice your body. Slowly scan through. How are your shoulders doing? Your hands? Your belly button? Your genitals? Your kneecaps? Your ankles? Your scalp? If you find tension, encourage this part of you to relax by taking another 5 second breath. If it doesn’t soften that’s ok. It’s the awareness of your body and the love inherent in trying to soothe it that counts.
  5. Tell yourself the date and time. Remind yourself of the location you’re at. Touch the floor or a piece of furniture near you. If there are any physical elements of protection around you, such as a closed/locked door or a stocked pantry, notice that.
  6. Go through each of your 5 senses. What are you seeing right now? What are you tasting? Hearing? See what subtle things you can sense in your reality.
  7. Take a few more deep breaths and notice how you feel now versus when you started the exercise.

RAIN

Use when: “I have feelings and I’m not sure how to deal with them.”

This meditation was created by a council of buddhist teachers in the 80’s and has been widely shared by Tara Brach. Slowly go through each letter in turn.

R — Recognize: The first step is just noticing that you’re feeling a feeling. Name that feeling if you can. “Angry,” “overwhelmed,” “stressed,” “fear,” etc. This helps pull your prefrontal cortex, your logical thinking brain into the process instead of letting your emotional lizard brain run the show.

A — Allow: Some feelings are uncomfortable, but just allow this one to hang out for a while. Allow yourself to feel it. Drop any story you may be telling yourself that you “shouldn’t” be feeling this way, even if just for the length of this exercise. We’ve been strongly conditioned throughout our life to push uncomfortable feelings away, so be a rebel and just feel for a while. (Note: If you start to get overwhelmed, go to the resourcing exercise above and return to RAIN when you feel more grounded)

I — Investigate: Note that this is an internal investigation, not a mental one. You’re not trying to say “oh I feel this way because of how my dad treated me…” or anything like that. Notice the physical sensations happening in your body as you feel. It’s common to sense a tightness in the throat or a clenching in your belly or some other type of constriction on the front of your body. Get close to the sensation, really focus in on what it feels like, even if it’s uncomfortable. Find the epicenter of it if you can. (Note: If you start to get overwhelmed, go to the resourcing exercise above and return to RAIN when you feel more grounded)

N — Nurture: Lovingly ask yourself questions like, “What does this feeling need right now? How can I provide this? What does this part of me want?” The answer is different for everyone in every instance, but some type of love, safety, respect, or reassurance is usually a safe bet. Sometimes it wants something you can’t provide, like all this magically going away, but it helps to even acknowledge that. Once you figure out what it needs, imagine smothering the sensation you feel with a loving salve. Breathe safety, and reassurance into your body and visualize the breath going to that physical spot.

… — Silence: The last step of RAIN is staying in the silence after the exercise. Let yourself rest for a minute or two. Notice if you feel different. Notice if you feel the same. Notice any relaxation or loosening you may feel. Let yourself integrate the experience into your nervous system.

You may have to repeat these exercises dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of times to fully release a feeling. It’s not like you do this exercise once and you’re instantly better. It’s like a work-out.

You may need to repeat this over and over. But doing so will strengthen the muscles of compassion, positivity, and love in your nervous system and help you build resiliency for whatever is happening in your life.

Good luck and I hope this helps. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions.

I help people rediscover awe and wonder through sexual and spiritual healing. Find resources and more at michellegarfinkel.com.

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