Friday, November 7, 2014

wired to care: 5 ways to take care of yourself when you're overwhelmed with others' feelings

 photo GraySweater2_zps9a6f7329.jpg

A woman at work was crying, so asked if she was OK. She said, "I'm just having one of those days." I told her that was OK, she was allowed to have one of those days. She then said, "If I would just stop giving a shit about everybody, I wouldn't feel like this." {or something very similar to that statement}. And this got me thinking.

Does anyone {other than sociopaths} really and truly not care about others, others' feelings or what other people think about them? I say no. And so do psychology articles, like this one and this one. We are wired to care. To understand others' feelings. To seek others' approval.

I wasn't upset about anything when I asked my co-worker why she was crying. But I walked away with a twinge of sadness. Why? My mirror neurons made me. As humans, we are wired to see others as similar to ourselves. We subconsciously and automatically feel what others feel, without them even having to tell us. We are wired to respond with empathy and sympathy. Often times we also, inadvertently, take on others' feelings as our own without realizing it.

When a friend is angry, you may get angry too. When a friend is sad and crying, you may cry too. When a friend is giddy with excitement, you may squeal with joy too. We are wired to be sensitive to others' feelings.

And this sometimes comes with a price. In her article, Deborah Ward says that because we are so sensitive to others' feeling, it's difficult to distinguish to whom the feelings actually belong. Taking on so many feelings may make you anxious, overly emotional, irrational or begin to effect your self-esteem. But as Ward says, there is nothing wrong with you. You are wired to be sensitive, and to be keen to others' emotions.

So what do you do when you're overwhelmed with emotion and can no longer separate your own feelings from those of others? Ward offers these five suggestions:

// Take a break. Remove yourself from the situation or the person when you're feeling overwhelmed and find a space to be alone.

// Protect yourself. If you feel better when you're away from certain people, recognize that you are taking on the other person's "stuff" and keep your distance. Toxic people do not belong in your life.

// Honor your needs. If there are situations and people you cannot avoid, give yourself time to recover emotionally. Take a walk or practice deep breathing to help calm you.

// Become aware of your feelings. Trying to run from your feelings is exhausting. Stop running. Recognize your feelings and learn from them. Being aware of your own feelings will help you more easily distinguish your feelings from others' feelings. Also, being able to recognize and understand your feelings can help you learn how to manage them.

// Take care of your feelings. It is OK to have and to show your feelings. And if you are able to recognize and manage your feelings, you can better express them in ways that work for you. Ward suggests expressing anger through exercise, sadness through journaling or anxiety through creativity or volunteer work.

You are wired to care to about others and understand their feelings. Just remember that your feelings matter too, and to take care of you.

6 comments:

Kristine said...

Wow, this is an awesome post. And makes so much sense! Love it.

Pamela said...

Oh, I needed this!

Kaity said...

I work for a non-profit where many of us are working one-on-one with really impoverished folks and experience a lot of that "secondhand trauma." Regardless of the industry, self-care in the workplace is SO, SO important!

Great post!

Lisa @ Two Martinis said...

I can totally relate to this! Sometimes I just think I'm overly empathetic because I went through phases of my life where I just felt overwhelmingly awful every time someone in my life was struggling with something. However, I started praying more for people and doing less (and especially gave up trying to give people unsolicited advice) and it's worked much better for me! Great post :-)

Because Shanna Said So said...

You know I need to read this!! Thank you so much for the reminders...sometimes you just have to stop all the noise and refocus on yourself and your family. being an adult, balancing a million things can get so overwhelming that we get lost and lose our sense of self. Love you lady and thanks for the sweet and sincere comment last week!! xoxo

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