What to do when emotions become overwhelming

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Are you a cryer? Or perhaps someone that just feels things very deeply?

Back in September last year I wrote a post called Why I’ll never be tough; accepting ourselves the way we are, about embracing sensitivity as a strength, rather than seeing it as a weakness.

On the flip side though, if you identify yourself as falling into this bracket too, then you’ll know that despite all the positives, feeling everything so deeply is exhausting.

There is in fact such a thing as extreme or ‘hyper’ empathy, which seems to have become more and more widely researched and talked about in recent years – see for example this article on Pschology Today.

I’m obviously not a doctor or psychologist myself so I can’t self-diagnose, but what I do know is that I experience what feels like an overwhelming amount of empathy at times.

Let’s be clear, this isn’t me blowing my own trumpet that I’m some great person. This is me admitting that sometimes I get so worried about strangers’ feelings I can barely watch Dragons’ Den, that I get myself upset about how a Love Island contestant might be feeling after being dumped or that I even start to feel sorry for the fictional bad guy characters in thriller-type dramas because I try to see things from their point of view. Sometimes after watching a sports event where my team has won, I even feel bad when they show the opposition’s fans looking sad. FOR REAL.

Needless to say that seeing someone I actually know, sad or upset, totally breaks me. Are you with me? If you’ve read this far then you probably know exactly what I’m talking about!

Working in a school can be emotionally exhausting at the best of times, but in the last few weeks there have been a few separate things that I’ve allowed to affect me too much.

Empathy of course, is kind of a helpful attribute to have when caring for kids. But too often recently, I’ve found myself taking on the emotions of others, to the point where their pain becomes my pain. And whilst I know that the fact that I care will have helped them, it ultimately leaves me not all that useful if I’m going home feeling emotionally broken.

Wherever you work and whoever’s in your circle, it’s easy to get lost in other people’s ups and downs. From a good place, we can all too easily set aside our own boundaries in a bid to help other people, and totally forget to keep a check on our own feelings.

At the end of the day, this is of course totally counter-productive because we end up too burned out to actually be of much help to anyone any more. It comes back to that saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup”, where you’ve neglected your own emotions and don’t really have anything left in the tank to give.

So what can we do when emotions become overwhelming?

  • Remember it’s okay to say no. It’s all too easy to keep saying yes to things to please other people, whether that’s a social event or doing a favour for someone. But remember that you can lovingly say no, and it doesn’t make you a selfish person. Carving out time for yourself is so important.
  • Share how you feel with someone you love. Make sure you’re not taking on all this stuff without telling someone else how you feel, it’s so important that there’s people watching out for you too, friendship and family is a two way street.
  • Check in on yourself and be curious about what you’re feeling and why. Try not to just block out any negative emotions you feel, but sit in them a bit and get curious about where they’ve come from.
  • Speak to a professional. The above things might be helpful for some people but if you’re experiencing a lot of emotional pain, you might benefit from speaking to your GP and getting a referral for talking therapy.

I am of course not a professional, and these are purely some thoughts and ideas based on what works for me; we’re all different.

After the last couple of weeks, these are some of the steps I’m trying to put into practice. How do you set boundaries and protect yourself from burnout and overwhelm? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

photo of a hot drink next to a bed, blog post about when emotions become overwhelming
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