How can you be happy when you feel like the world is falling apart?
Thank you so much for your support. Any thoughts you may have mean a lot to me.
Abby in Abbotsford
First of all, Abby, I want to thank you for asking this very important question that I have been asked countless times as a psychologist. Sometimes the weight of our lives can feel like more than we are able to handle or have any control over. Whether the source of the heaviness is associated with our relationships, the environment, losses, transitions, current events, tragedies, or even health challenges, the sense of overwhelming feelings of fear and despair can sometimes leave us feeling incapable of facing the day. During my own journey, I’ve also had times like these.
While in the throes of feelings of despair, something else happens that most people do not know about—the blood flow patterns in the brain actually change!
In the case of feeling overwhelmed and despairing, the body knows to send the lion’s share of blood flow to the hind brain (the survival part of the brain) and to the mid-brain (the emotional part), and much less blood flow makes it to the cortex (the thinking part). It does this to help us fight or flee that which we experience as threatening, real or imagined, in physical or emotional in form.
What this also means is that when we are feeling strong emotional activation, we don’t have as much access to the part of our brain that helps us problem solve and cope. Since the language centre of the brain is also blood-starved during those times, we may not have the ability to find words to express the barrage of feelings that we are experiencing.
So, without our rational cognitive functions as accessible to us, what are we left with? Well… emotional dysregulation and poor coping strategies, at best! This is one of the reasons many people find themselves drawn to using other coping methods. Alcohol, drugs and junk food can feel like they have our name on them during those difficult times. Unfortunately, while these substances can seem “comforting” in the moment, these resources do not bode well in the long term for most of us.
Four Tips To Help You When You Feel Despair:
Here are FOUR TIPS that can help you shift from that dark place of despair into feelings of greater joy and delicious living.
- Be Kind To Yourself. When you realize that you are not doing so well, instead of berating yourself for your dysregulation and/or unhealthy coping strategies and behaviours, be gentle with yourself and realize that you temporarily don’t have access to your regular arsenal of healthy coping strategies to handle your emotions as optimally as you would like.
- Seek Support. Whether from friends or professionals, having people who care about you there to listen to you can make a world of difference. Know that you do not have to go through this alone.
- Distract Yourself. Often when we feel overwhelmed and despairing, our thoughts can start to loop and grow tentacles. Rumination is a nasty dragon that we do not want to feed. Get out. Change your scenery. Get around others who make you forget about your own ruminatory thoughts (kids and pets are great for this!), even if just for moments at a time. Any respite from the storm is welcome and allows you some breathing space away from the feelings of overwhelm or “doom and gloom”.
- Allow yourself to enjoy “Comfort Foods” that are healthier versions of the toxic “junk foods” that you normally reach for. If you want help coming up with suggestions, I have written an entire book filled with delicious ideas for how you can enjoy even your most vicious of food vices, without the guilt and discomfort of betraying your body while you do so.
I hope these strategies help you during this difficult time. By the way, Abby, if you will be attending the West Coast Christmas Show at the Abbotsford Tradex this weekend (November 18-20), be sure to come by and say “Hi”! I’ll be on the Home for the Holidays Stage all three days, demonstrating how to make crazy-delicious fudge and truffles that are actually full of healthy ingredients. It would be great to meet you and also sign a book for you if you like.
Ask Theresa Nicassio PhD questions about health, psychology, life, food, parenting, wellness and whatever else you need advice on, by emailing her at Theresa@TheresaNicassio.com, with “BECAUSE YOU ASKED” in the subject heading. Feel free to sign your submission with a pseudonym of your choice (e.g. “Sleepless in Seattle”).