In our busy world today, we may often feel overloaded, both physically and emotionally. These may be very real and concrete stressors, placed on us by demands of family or work. Or they may be quick and furious reactions to everyday frustrations like getting stuck in traffic or having a computer crash! In any case, these pressures are not healthy. If we could measure these reactions on an “emotional meter,” we would probably see fluctuations, spikes and swings.
The term “emotional meter” is often used to describe the idea of keeping track of moods and emotions and being able to act accordingly. Dr. Ilene Strauss Cohen, a psychotherapist, blogger, and contributor to Psychology Today, uses the term in her articles and books about coping with moods and anxiety. It is an apt metaphor for being aware of, measuring and controlling our reactions to emotional highs and lows.
Do you “sweat the small stuff?” Over-react? Feel “triggered”? Over-think? Do it all?
If these are phrases you tend to use, or ones that others have used to describe you, perhaps it’s time to take care of yourself and check the “emotional meter” to determine the effects of these pressures, and then find some ways of coping with them.
Our emotional meters can swing to the high frustration, end for a variety of reasons.
1. Taking On Too Much
Many women feel pressure to “do it all” and do it perfectly. Life becomes a balancing act of work and family, or later of being caught in the “sandwich generation,” caring for both children and aging parents. Often those are duties that cannot be escaped and that we want to do for those around us.
But when does it become too much? Is it necessary to do it all ourselves? Can some of these duties be delegated to others? Is it really helpful to take on duties that others can share? These are crucial questions to ask as you see the emotional meter swinging into high mode.
Remember others in the group, whether family members or work colleagues, are part of the team. Doing everything yourself is not only exhausting, but taking responsibility away from others is not healthy for them or for your relationships.
2. A Need to Control
Often people who do end up doing the lion’s share of the work maintain they enjoy taking control, or that doing so is the only way to ensure that everything will go well. It is important to look at the big picture here. As stated above, remember that for a “system” to function well, all parts need to contribute to a whole. If you’re a big list maker, use that list to determine how to encourage others to help, rather than just adding more chores to your own plate.
3. Need to Prove One’s Worth/Perfectionism
Perhaps you take all this on or need to feel in control because the greater need is the need to prove one’s self-worth. Often, we feel the need to be seen as the super-human/mom/leader. Sometimes, those pressures go back to childhood or adolescence and are very ingrained. You don’t need to have all the answers. In this case, the emotional meter needs to signal that it is time to take care of yourself.
4. Over-reacting and Over-thinking
When the pressures mount, we may feel the smallest setback or inconvenience is monumental. This is when tempers rage or we go into over-thinking mode, resulting in tension, insomnia or even physical illness. The emotional meter is swinging out of control and it’s time to re-set.
So, once you’ve learned to identify the causes, how do you actually find a way to regulate that emotional meter?
1. Know your “triggers”: Identify and anticipate situations or issues that tend to make you react emotionally. Have strategies in place to deal with these when they hit. If you’re unsure what these are, reflect on the past week and try to determine what provoked a reaction or a mood.
Was it a situation, a delicate or controversial topic (such as politics), a physical state such as hunger or fatigue? These may not go away, and may be unavoidable at times, but knowing what they are and being prepared can make dealing with them less stressful.
2. ..but don’t over-think: Obsessing about these moments is not going to be helpful as it will just put extra stress on your emotional well-being. You don’t need to add guilt or self-doubt to the list! However, examining why you reacted a certain way, or looking at your expectations can be helpful.
Are you realistic in the outcomes you wanted to achieve? Or are you striving for perfection? How could you have responded differently? Again, it’s not about beating yourself up over your reaction, but managing these in order to make yourself feel better.
3. Act on it: Take a deep breath, cool down, try to rationalize or think about it, then determine how you can act. De-personalize the situation, identify problems and solutions that are realistic, and then act on them. If you’re unable to solve the problem or deal with it directly, sometimes simply writing it down can be helpful.
Whether your challenges involve over-doing, over-reacting, or over-thinking, re-setting the emotional meter in favour of a more positive reading involves not just self-reflection and action, but self-care. Just as you should take certain measures to take care of yourself when you are physically unwell, you need to be good to yourself when the emotional meter is out of control. Try some of the following prescriptions for emotional setbacks.
In conclusion, just as we need to measure, understand and control aspects of our physical health, our emotional well-being needs similar care. The concept of an emotional meter is a great visualization tool. Take time to check in, understand it, and then act in ways that can alleviate suffering and prevent frequent setbacks.