Keeping Your Cool: 3 Strategies for Managing Emotional Reactions in Public
I was standing there with two huge padded envelopes in my hands when tears started to form in the corners of my eyes. My throat became heavy with grief and sorrow. I suddenly felt the weight of loss in my core. That heaviness and emptiness that aches like a deep wound that will never heal. Moments before I had been chatting merrily with the post-office worker about children's books and less than 90 seconds later hot tears were streaming down my face as I stood paralyzed by emotion. The kind postal worker had merely asked me if the recipients for the zip code I had provided were "Nate & Tilly Casey". Not knowing that my niece Tilly had recently passed a day after her fourth birthday and would never be able to get another package from Auntie Coco again. We've all been there – a sudden surge of emotion in a public setting that threatens to undermine our composure. Whether it's frustration, anger, anxiety, or even tears, managing emotional reactions in public can be challenging. So what are the right strategies, so you can navigate these situations gracefully? I don't know if there is anything graceful about grief but we will explore three effective ways to deal with emotional reactions in public settings.
1) Practice Deep Breathing and Mindfulness: When emotions begin to bubble up in a public setting, one of the most immediate and effective techniques you can employ is deep breathing coupled with mindfulness. Follow these steps:
Find a Quiet Spot: If possible, step away from the immediate situation to a quieter spot where you can gather your thoughts without distractions. Part of the upset I experienced at the post office was shame for having such a private big emotion in front of a stranger. If I had even stepped the two feet outside for a moment I may not have had the upset of the emotional reaction mixing with my grief to root me to the spot.
Deep Breathing: Take slow, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on the sensation of your breath entering and leaving your body. This calms the body's stress response and provides a moment of pause. Or as Daniel Tiger has taught me via my nieces and nephews...sometimes you need to count down to calm down. Take 3 deep breaths or slowly count down from 5. Seriously Daniel Tiger knows his shit. It works for children and as it turns out...adults.
Mindfulness: Engage your senses. Notice the details around you – the texture of surfaces, the sounds, and the smells. This helps ground you in the present moment and prevents your emotions from spiraling.
2) Utilize Positive Self-Talk: Your internal dialogue plays a significant role in how you handle emotional reactions. Positive self-talk can help shift your perspective and keep your emotions in check.
Identify Negative Thoughts: When you feel a strong emotional reaction coming on, take a moment to identify any negative thoughts or self-criticisms that might be fueling the intensity of your emotions. It isn't that I won't get to send Tilly physical objects that caused me to be upset. It is the loss of someone I love.
Challenge and Reframe: Challenge these negative thoughts by asking yourself if they are realistic or if there might be a more balanced perspective. Reframe these thoughts into more constructive and compassionate statements.
Affirmations: Prepare a list of positive affirmations beforehand that you can repeat to yourself in these situations. For instance, remind yourself that you are capable of handling this, that your emotions are valid, and that this too shall pass. My best friend Kayla's mantra after her divorce is "I can do hard things". You can.
3) Create a Distraction Plan: Sometimes, a quick distraction can help diffuse an emotional reaction and give you a chance to regroup. I do this with children all the time. Why not with ourselves?
Engage in a Task: Have a simple task or activity in mind that you can engage in when you feel emotions taking over. This could be counting to ten, organizing your bag, or solving a quick puzzle on your phone.
Use Humor: Injecting a bit of humor into the situation can lighten the mood. Think of a funny memory, joke, or amusing thought that can help you shift your focus.
Visualizations: Mentally transport yourself to a calming place – a favorite vacation spot, a serene beach, or a cozy reading nook. Visualizing a peaceful scene can help reduce stress and emotional intensity.
It took me a moment to collect myself at the post office. It was such a shock to be faced with that level of emotion. Experiencing emotional reactions in public is a natural part of being human, but it doesn't have to be a source of embarrassment or discomfort. I knew from that experience I needed to research ways to deal with this evitability. By practicing deep breathing and mindfulness, utilizing positive self-talk, and creating a distraction plan, you can effectively manage your emotions and maintain your composure in any situation...so they say. Remember, it's okay to feel, but learning to navigate these emotions gracefully can make a world of difference in how you feel about the situation and are able to heal.