Most of us have had experiences where we’ve felt so swamped by a strong emotion (usually anger, fear or depression). Things happen that seem to trigger this emotion, and we feel so overwhelmed and stuck in our thoughts and feelings that it is like being emotionally overcome and dumped by a big powerful wave.
Sometimes we can even find that the harder we try to “snap out of it” the more stuck we become… like trying to escape from a rip. Just like being stuck in a rip, the more we struggle, the more stuck we become and so much energy gets used just trying to survive so we feel weak and exhausted.
A key to learning to surf is to firstly notice when a big wave is coming. This means noticing the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that accompany periods of anxiety, depression, anger or stress. This becomes easier with practice and at first you may only notice when you are right in the middle of it. It can be beneficial to go through this process with a psychologist who can assist you to feel more confident in developing your mental surfing technique!
The more you start to develop this awareness, the more you are in a position to choose to start to respond differently and ride the wave rather than be dumped by it. This involves becoming more mindful and less attached to unhelpful thoughts, feelings and behaviours rather than feeling at their mercy.
Part of surfing involves the inevitable falling off but the key is to acknowledge you have been overwhelmed by the feeling/thought/experience and choosing to get up on your (psychological) board again and not be dumped by the experience. This is what helps to build courage and confidence. It is riding out challenging situations that builds the confidence even if the outcome is not perfect.
When we develop resiliency we are able to become better at surfing challenging life situations and thoughts and feelings. It is easy to identify what it would look like if you were being psychologically “dumped” – be that tears, anger, withdrawal but next time you have a challenging situation, ask yourself how you would respond if you were surfing rather than being dumped by the thought, emotion or experience. If you were feeling more calm, more confident or more relaxed, how would you respond differently?
The arrow that strikes twice – Struggling with the same issues or emotions throughout our lives.
Drawn from Eastern teaching and very relevant to everyday life is the concept of the arrow that strikes twice. Things happen in our life as part of our human experience that are painful, sometimes outside of our control or unavoidable – sickness, accidents and other external events.
What can complicate this is when we add our own “second arrow” by adding layers and layers of worries, struggle and reactivity. Being struck by a second arrow in the same place becomes even more painful than the first and so struggles to heal.
We can’t always control the first arrow but we can minimise the pain by learning to notice when we are firing our own second arrow and applying layer upon layer of struggle and reactivity. The initial pain is then amplified and lasts far longer than it otherwise would.
Seeing a psychologist can help you to identify your “second arrows”. Often strong emotional responses are triggered by long held self beliefs, sometimes, which you may not be consciously aware of. With the insight and support of an experienced clinical psychologist, you can learn ways to help you learn to respond differently to challenging events and to learn to let go of unhelpful struggles with thoughts and feelings.
This frees up much mental and emotional energy resulting in feeling more confident, calmer and less at the mercy of lifes ups and downs.
Sannon Yeardley, Psychologist