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Episode 210: Overwhelming Emotions



And hello to you and welcome to the Richard Nicholls podcast.
The personal development podcast series that's here to help inspire, educate and motivate you to be the best you can be. I’m psychotherapist Richard Nicholls and this is episode 210 it’s titled Overwhelming Emotions and if you're ready we'll start the show.

Happy flipping February! How have you all been? Covid restrictions here in the UK are lifting a bit, cases seem to be slowly dropping and beds in intensive care are being freed up every day, ok it's a drop of single figures throughout the whole of the UK but at least it's going in the right direction. To put that into context this time last year there were nearly 4000 people in intensive care because of Covid in the UK and last week it was less than 600.

So yes, breathe a sigh of relief, just don't do it in each others faces 'cos that might be pushing your luck. And I know everyone's bored of Covid now, we just want to get back to how things were when we didn't need to even consider whether someone in the room might have a virus or not, and it looks like that's the way it's heading. In the same way that we don't wonder whether someone has whooping cough or tuberculosis anymore.

So life might not be quite so overwhelming in 2022. That's not to say that being overwhelmed is off the table though, life can still throw things at us that tips over the edge can't it? There are still going to be massive emotions that totally overwhelm our body. And if you're a patron of mine on you'd have heard me talking this week about panic attacks, if you're not a patron and you'd like to be, head on over to and look me up.

There's hours and hours of mental health support audio on there. It's not going to totally replace one to one therapy but I'm sure it will make being on a waiting list a lot easier or at least that's what people tell me. Plus a portion of your pledge goes to many charitable places as well so not only will becoming a patron make your life better you'll be helping to make someone else's too. So yeah, I was talking about panic attacks in my previous patron only episode

and I want to expand on some of the coping strategies in today's. Now, people will talk about it in different ways to me when they describe their overwhelm. Mostly based around fight or flight though. They might say that when they're upset they get really angry, uncontrollably so. So that once they've been triggered you'd best get out of the way as something's gonna get smashed. Or there's a need to hurt themselves,

and it does feel like a need. Or their body just goes into absolute panic mode and every muscle tightens, every system that exists goes into full on 100% overdrive. It feels hopeless, as if there's no going back from it now. As if I've crossed the rubicon, the point of no return. It feels like it's too late. But it quite often isn't actually. It can be pulled back. There are a few things you can do

when we're really overwhelmed to prevent that spiral and I'm going to talk about those today, I'll start small and work my way up a bit to the extreme side of things. So starting small, if you can catch it early enough, some breathing exercises will help because it slows down your heart rate. All due to whats called RSA respiratory sinus arrhythmia, the correlation our body has with our heart rate and our respiration.

Because when we breathe in, our heart rate automatically increases and when we breathe out, it automatically slows down. So if you can breathe out slowly then you're going to slow down your heart rate as well. One thing that I suggest to kids and YOU can think of it like this as well it doesn't do any harm to be a bit childlike sometimes, have you met me?! An that's to breathe as if you're blowing bubbles. Then you'll automatically find your heart rate slows down. You can't consciously make the decision to slow down your heart rate

but imagining that you're blowing bubbles and taking control over your breathing will slow it down for you. What I mean by blowing bubbles is you know the little bottles you used to play with as a kid, you dunk a wand in and gently blow through a hole to expand the bubble mixture. If you blow too hard you can't blow a bubble cos you just blow the liquid off the wand, but if you purse your lips a bit, and blow slowly with just the right sort of force

then because it's gentle it makes a great big bubble but it needs to be slow doesn't it, it needs to be gentle. And imagining that you're blowing bubbles or actually blowing bubbles maybe if its appropriate, sure why not. Get some from the supermarket next time you go. Open a window and gently blow some bubbles out of it. But even imagining it, will definitely do the trick in the moment. Because the out breath will always be slower than the in breath

when you're forever blowing bubbles. So that's my first little tip for catching the overwhelm. Blowing bubbles. That might be all you need to start the ball rolling in a better direction. But if the emotion is too great like the urge to self harm for example, then you might need something more than just blowing bubbles. Most people dont think that pain can be addictive but like I've said so many times before, anything you repeat becomes habitual and anything you associate with pleasure can become addictive.

A lot of people don't realise that those that cut themselves are actually getting some sort of pleasure from it. It's a massive distraction, it lights up the brain in ways that makes it ignore our emotions which to some people is a huge relief. They've gone from feeling one deep dark painful emotion that they couldn't control, to a better not so deep not so dark and not so painful emotion.

It's still pain but it's one that they can control and one that doesn't hurt as much as the emotional pain does. And we're gonna need more than breathing exercises to prevent that. And now's not the time or the place to go into that that's a podcast series all of its own let alone an episode but if we get this bad then we definitely need to find ways of exploring our emotions in a safer way, through therapy primarily,

but even journaling, listening to music, reading poetry or books can help us to explore how and why we feel what we do. Even if all we do is write massive sweary sentences in a notebook. Big black scribbles, fine. It can help. Even just having a good cry can help but so can experiencing a safer sort of pain. One that doesn't do as much damage but still has the relief. And that can be done with ice.

Being cold is really very painful to the skin and can absolutely help with big emotional times that could have so easily turned into self harm. It's helped along because of what's called pain-offset relief. A relief that comes from the pain actually stopping, rather than from the pain itself. So holding ice cubes in your hand for as long as you can, squeezing them, sticking a bag of frozen peas up your t shirt that sort of thing.

Weird I know but given the right place on your body, often the hands works well, and the right sort of cold thing. I mean ice is best really but anything that's frozen will help, and holding it against your skin for as long as you can tolerate it, will create a sense of relief, a calming response. And is much better for you than actually banging your head against a brick wall. For some situations activating the diving reflex can really help as well.

It's different to the ice cold thing as it's about submerging your whole face into cold water. Very cold if you can. With ice cubes in it if possible. It helps with stopping panic attacks actually. I've met lots of people who have done this and it's really helped them. For whatever reason, natural selection, evolution, mother nature, the creators divine plan, however you want to think of it when we fall into cold water our body reacts to save our life.

If you can't breathe and you're cold there's a reflex that slows down your heart rate and narrows your blood vessels. Normally when we're fighting or flighting oxygen gets diverted to the muscles, adrenaline is produced and our heart goes full speed. But the diving reflex diverts oxygen AWAY from the muscles and into the heart and brain, in theory then there's no need for adrenaline because the heart has enough oxygen

and there's nothing to fight or flee from so everything calms down. It's a bit extreme, cos it is cold and wet but if you have panic attacks from time to time at home having some packs of ice in the freezer can be brilliant. If your panic attack hits such a peak that you feel like you're dying. Fill the sink with water, chuck in some ice cubes and stick your face in it. Submerge your entire head if you can to try and get even the back of your neck cold

and hold your breath under the water for as long as you can at least half a minute, at least 30 seconds if you can. If you can only manage 15 seconds at first then fine obviously, you might need to come up for air a few times and dunk your face back in again, repeat it for as long as you need to. But probably after 5 minutes things will have calmed down. I've met people who have had panic attacks last for so long they've gone to accident and emergency

convinced that they're having a heart attack and this is a much easier way of putting your mind at rest that you're not, because it slows this down quite fast. It's wet, it's cold I know, but it takes less than 5 minutes and you'll soon be dry and it genuinely does help. And is far less inconvenient than driving to a and e to sit around for 4 hours to then be told you're fine go home. Once you've calmed down a bit you can do some preventative stuff,

the kind of things that in the middle of a panic attack wouldn't help. Like mindfulness, like hypnotherapy, those things aren't likely to relax you if you're in full on overwhelm mode because it's so incongruent. Too much of a mismatch between how you feel and the cheesy slow soothing words and relaxing music. At other times it's fine but if you're too far gone. It'll just annoy you.

But once you've calmed down a bit you can maybe then go and chill out for half an hour. Theres no excuse for you because you've got access to the ones that are on my website if you want them, there are hours and hours and hours of stuff for patrons on patreon, but there are some free ones as well that I've made on my own site, go and subscribe to my email list and you'll get an email back automatically, immediately, with where to go to listen to some tracks for free.

The biggest reason I recommend this is because it becomes a skill, something that with practise gets really easy for you to do. Even without the soothing words and the cheesy music to just stop what you're doing and rest and be ok with your thoughts and your emotions.

The ultimate goal is to feel an emotion and accept it for what it is, to think thoughts and just accept them for what they are. It takes a while but it's well worth the time and effort to be learn to be able to say to yourself "i'm thinking this, and that's ok, I get it." "I'm feeling that and that's ok, I get it" being ok with your thoughts and your emotions gives you control over them, or at least mastery, control is maybe not the right word, but mastery is.

You might not be able to control a wampy springer spaniel but you can still be its master. You can accept it for what it is a wampy stupid dog that you shake your head at, accept it, wait for it to calm down and then give it a biscuit and a rub behind the ear and tell it to get back in its box. That's mastery. The stupid dog does what it does and its ok that you can't control it. I think our emotions and thoughts are a bit like that. Sometimes they go off the rails a bit

we need to sit with them, understand them, acknowledge them and then put them back in their box. If you can sit with your emotions well then you'll get the emotional intelligence needed to know how to handle them. You'll be able to see the difference between anger and grief. We call our emotions feelings for a reason because we feel them in or body, there are body sensations to our emotions.

Grief can feel heavy and empty and anger hot and tight. Shame and guilt can feel different to both of those with this behavioural urge to hide to do something to help you forget something maybe. We NEED and I mean need, to get to the end point of being able to feel those things, to sit with them all and be ok with it. It takes some people years, most people probably if I'm honest. So it's a slow process

But if you can get to a point where you can look back and see how far you've come you'll be very happy that you started on the journey that you did. Now then boys girls and everybody in-between let's tie things up for today. As I'm sure you know I'll be back with a weekly podcast on Patreon alongside some extra hypnotherapy tracks each Monday to help keep you all as sane as we can. Feel free to follow me on social media of course, I'm on facebook instagram and twitter so if you need anything you know where to find me. Have a super February and if I don't speak to you before hand, I'll be back in March. See ya.