Learn to Diffuse and Regulate your Emotions – Maria Mead

It can seem like we are battling and swimming against strong emotional currents when we are in conflict with our beloved. These aren’t the day-to-day flashes of anger or hurt. I am talking about the giant waves of bad feelings that completely flatten you and take any rational thought with them. This is how it usually goes:-

a) You are in the middle of an argument or disagreement;

b) Your partner says or does something, and suddenly you fall down a deep dark rabbit hole.

c) You feel a mixture of anger, hurt, panic and fear.

When I’ve been caught in one of these tsunami tides in the past, I have the physical sensation of something taking hold of my body — my muscles clench, my blood pressure appears to go sky high, my stomach does cartwheels and my mind goes into overdrive. I became unable to listen to anything my partner is saying as I’m flooded by my own feelings and by the injustice of it all.

The difference between flooding and more manageable experiences of our emotions is vast. You reach the point when your thinking brain (i.e. the part that can take in grey areas, consider other sides, keep things in proportion to the event, stay aware, etc) is shut out. Psychologist John Gottman explains this emotional hijacking as the hallmark of our nervous system in overdrive. Something happens — and it could be almost anything — in your interaction with your partner that sets off your internal threat-detection system. This is your parasympathetic nervous system in action, preparing you for fight or flight. In this state, you lose some of your capacity for rational thought. Science describes this is as a decrease of activity in your pre-frontal cortex, being the centre of higher cognition.

Our instinctive reactions in these moments usually make the situation worse. The fight response we are primed for becomes an exchange of angry words that just deepen wounds. In flight, we might stalk out of the room or shut out our mate with icy silence. Basically, when we react in the grip of emotional flooding, we do and say the kind of things that are likely to trigger emotional flooding in our partner. And then both people in the room are out of control.

Here are some things I have learned along the way from my own experiences, and from counselling other couples, which may help you and your partner find your way when either of you gets derailed by emotional flooding:

Make a commitment to try self-soothing the next time you find yourself caught up in a heavy emotion over this or that with your partner. The reality is that it is not easy to hold back from acting out when we are completely enraged or feeling utterly devastated. But if you can try and accept the idea that you can’t entirely trust yourself and your perceptions when you are in a state of total reactivity then at least you have a fighting chance of pulling yourself back from the spiral. Some part of you will hopefully have registered that you probably shouldn’t be so quick to buy into whatever blame narrative or catastrophic way of looking at the situation your mind has come up with.

Mentally store a picture of your partner at their best. Picture a moment when you experience your partner as loving, generous and well-meaning. Add as much detail as you can to really capture how you experience your partner when you are feeling loved and cared for. You might picture your partner standing at the top of the stairs waiting to greet me at the end of day with a look of pure happiness. Try shifting your focus to this image when you get trapped in a negative story about them. This might help your brain move out of its reactive state and reintegrate a more balanced view of your partner.

When you do get flooded, you need to hit the pause button on your interaction and turn your attention inward.  Before you can do anything, you need to reassure yourself that you will be fine if you wait for this storm to pass.  May be put your hand lightly on your heart for some physical reassurance and tell yourself “This feels tough right now but I’ll get through it”.

Observe what’s happening. This is the key to creating some distance between yourself and the storm of thoughts and feelings. Mentally note that you have become activated. Start to investigate what happens when you get emotionally flooded. A good mantra to remember is “Get curious, NOT furious”. Notice what thoughts take shape in your mind and what sensations move through your body.

Use images to ground the process of slowing, observing and letting go. You might want to imagine your mind as a wheel that was suddenly spinning furiously. With each breath, you are able to slow down its speed until it is barely turning.  As your frantic thoughts subside, your nervous system can calm down, too. Imagine any constriction melting. Relax your hands, imagining yourself physically letting go of the story you created about what has happened.

Take timeouts when you need to. Sometimes you can self-soothe on the spot. At other times, you may need to take a break from the interaction. Make a plan with your partner that if either of you gets too activated in an argument to hear the other — to avoid saying things you will regret — you will take a time out. Agree to come back together to continue the discussion within a certain period of time, but don’t delay indefinitely. Use the time to actively soothe yourself rather than obsessing over your version of what went wrong, which will just keep you activated. The point here is to disengage with your reaction so you can re-engage with your partner.

Don’t get down on yourself when you do get tripped up and act out. That’s what “I’m sorry” is for.

What Is Counselling and How Does It Work? – Maria Mead

Counselling is often described as Talking Therapy.  It may be talking therapy to a point but it is more than just talk or being listened to. It is a unique experience and your own experience will be based on what you bring to the therapy space – as well as what I bring.

As a general rule, I believe counselling works because it provides you with the space and opportunity to express yourself openly about how you feel. This is particularly important when it is about feelings which usually cause you to fear being judged or rejected. Expressing all emotions is important and essential to our mental and physical health.

There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ emotions. They are all equally valid. However, you can be led to believe from an early age that it is wrong to have or feel strong thoughts, emotions or feelings. This means you may have developed a tendency to keep your thoughts, emotions and feelings closed off, even from friends and family. The problem with doing this is that you tend to forget or deny what makes you feel happy or sad and therefore you no longer have the capacity to feel good any more.  You may find it difficult to avoid getting into situations or circumstances which make you angry or upset.

Contrary to what you might hope, ‘bad’ feelings do not go away just because you do not talk about them or try to ignore them – in fact they get worse. If you continuously suppress what you feel your moods are likely to become a walking ‘time bomb’. This may lead to angry outbursts, depression, alcohol/substance abuse, reckless or compulsive behaviour, etc.  If you continuously suppress your feelings they begin to manifest themselves physically in your body in various ways.  Often, when we get more control over our emotional health, our physical health also improves.

Through counselling, you can learn how to manage your feelings, emotions and thoughts more healthily and feel less weighed down or triggered by them.

Telephone: 07940565603  maria.mead1@btinternet.com

A few benefits of counselling – Maria Mead

Develop more self-awareness and insight – over your thoughts, feelings and actions.

Counselling can help you get a clearer picture as to how your past may have impacted on the way you think about situations and why you react the way you do.  This awareness is your first stepping stone to changing unwanted patterns of behaviour. 

Seeing things from a different perspective – on the experiences that are causing you pain or difficulty.

Counselling helps you view your situation through a different lens, with a new understanding and more acceptance.  Together, we will challenge internalised core beliefs about yourself.  You can then choose whether it’s in your interests to hold on to them or let them go.

Increased intimacy and connection – with yourself and others.  Through the counselling relationship, you can develop more self-acceptance and compassion towards yourself, which in turn allows you to show more tolerance and compassion towards significant others in your life.

Counselling can help develop your capacity to love –  and be loved.  Developing self-compassion can be difficult if you recognise you have a critical inner voice, perfectionist streak or extremely high expectations. Making friends with that voice isn’t easy!

Coping with difficult feelings – Giving space to your thoughts, feelings and emotions and having them accepted and validated in the therapy session can bring about a sense of relief.

Counselling helps you realise that ALL your feelings are valid and matter.

Learn how to regulate your emotions –  when you are ‘flooded’ ór ‘triggered’ by your emotions, it can seem impossible to calm yourself down.  It is vital for both your mental and physical well-being to be able to do this.

Counselling can help you to get a better handle on your emotions and manage situations which are likely to fuel them more effectively.

Learn how to self soothe –  when you are in the midst of conflict it can be so difficult not to react strongly and say or do hurtful things you may later regret.

Counselling helps you discover ways in which to de-escalate and self soothe so you can handle relationship conflict more effectively.

Why Would Anyone Talk To A Counsellor? – Maria Mead

Let’s face it, approaching a Counsellor can seem a daunting prospect, especially if you are already in an anxious state of mind. So why would anyone talk to a counsellor? Some of the reasons given for not talking to one could be:-

• I should be able cope by myself
• I don’t want to talk about personal stuff with a stranger
• I don’t want someone giving me their opinion and advice
• I don’t have money to spare
• I don’t have the time

I should be able to cope by myself-

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to cope, often with the underlying belief that we must be weak if we can’t. Yet in other areas of life we don’t hesitate to seek support. For instance, if your boiler broke down you most likely would get an expert engineer in to fix it. Counsellors usually go through at least 4 years of intensive training to be able to support people who are in emotional distress. There can be a lot of fear and shame associated with asking for help and it might seem easier for some to struggle on feeling stuck and unable to cope than to admit they need help.

I don’t want to talk about personal stuff with a stranger –

A key principle of counselling is that the person you are speaking to is not connected to your life outside the counselling room. This allows for a neutral space where you can talk openly without the fear of being judged for what you are saying. Talking to supportive family and friends can be helpful but we often factor in their feelings and judgements, which can mean we hold back from saying what we truly believe or feel. Trust is also important which is why it is important to choose a fully qualified counsellor who is a member of a recognised professional body (such as the NCS – National Counselling Society) and therefore works to their code of ethics in terms of confidentiality etc. All counsellors found on the Counselling Directory: http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/ meet this standard.

I don’t want someone giving me their opinion or advice –

It can be very frustrating when you approach a friend or partner in the hope of getting their understanding and empathy but instead you get their opinion and/or advice. There is sometimes the misunderstanding that counselling involves explaining what your problem is and then the counsellor wisely sits back in their chair and tells you what you should do.

Counselling is about talking through what is going on for you and helping you gain the understanding and self-awareness to make choices, decisions and changes for yourself. For a more detailed explanation of What is Counselling and How It Works see: https://www.mariameadcounselling.co.uk/what-is-counselling/

I don’t have money to spare –

It is true that most counselling costs money. It is possible to get some free counselling through the NHS although there is usually a waiting list and the number of sessions are limited. Some charities also offer free support, which tends to be for specific issues, such as Cruse who deal with bereavement. The average cost for a 50 minute session of counselling in London is around £50. Many counsellors offer a limited number of reduced fee sessions for those unable to pay the full rate. We often spend money on things that give us short term happiness. Counselling is not a short term fix. It is a process through which we can discover the tools to be able to manage our emotions and anxieties more easily, to see things in proportion to how they are, to stop repeating destructive patterns of behaviour, to make better choices and ultimately to bring about more meaning and joy into our lives.

I don’t have the time

In an already jam packed week, finding time to get to see a counsellor can seem almost impossible for some. However, creating space and time in the week for your own well-being can make a big difference to your life. If you are used to prioritising others before yourself this might not come naturally to you. Hopefully you should be able to find someone close to your home via the Counselling Directory and many counsellors now offer on-line counselling which can save on both travel and time.

Having read this blog you may still be wondering why anyone would talk to a counsellor, and it is important to recognise that counselling isn’t for everyone. But for those who are ready to take a leap of faith and give it a try counselling could be the best investment you ever make in your life.

How Can Bereavement Counselling help you? – Maria Mead

However hard it is to move through the stages of bereavement, it is possible to shift from thinking of grief as “something that happens to you” to “grieving is something you do to heal”.

If you are looking to understand how bereavement counselling can help you, here is a summary of what you might expect from it:-

  • To help you, the bereaved, accept the loss by helping you talk about the loss.
  • To help you to identify and express feelings related to the loss, i.e. guilt, blame, shame, anger, anxiety, helplessness and sadness.
  • To help you to separate emotionally from the person who died and to take into consideration your own needs.
  • To provide support and time to reflect on grieving at significant times, such as birthdays and anniversaries.
  • To help you understand that the grief process is very individual and to provide continuous support, as necessary.
  • To help you understand your method of coping and what works best for you.
  • To idenfity coping problems you may be having, to address them and to make recommendations on any further course of action that may be necessary.
  • To address ways in which you can stay healthy and keep functioning.
  • To help you re-establish relationships with others who may be going through their own grief process in a different way to yours.
  • To help you develop a healthy image of yourself and the world.

Lessons in Life – Maria Mead

How do you describe the strange limbo feeling when life slows down and everything around you fades away into insignificance? No-one teaches us what to do when life as we know it crumbles and we are left in the midst of ruin. Society has little time for our pain and yet we cannot see outside of it. We impose time limits and expectations on how long one is supposed to suffer.

Slowly, as I emerged from my own grief, I made a list of what I learned along the way and through therapy with my counsellor”    A. N.

  • My feelings cannot kill me, they will heal me.
  • Sometimes it’s ok to just switch off and have a duvet day.
  • Getting ‘closure’ doesn’t mean having all the answers and that I can live with not knowing.
  • I can play the ‘blame game’  till I’m blue in the face but that I became a stronger person when I stopped asking “why me?” and start asking “how is this blame helping me?”
  • I have a lot more to learn about myself.
  • The answers I was seeking outside of myself were to be found within.
  • There is nothing as precious as now, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.
  • I can never know what each day is going to bring but at its close, it’s up to me to know what the day brought.
  • Cherish moments.
  • The pain does gradually subside.
  • Reach out to others.
  • Crying is healing.
  • There are no rules as to how I should grieve.
  • Life is a journey, not a destination.
  • Be grateful about things I used to consider as being of  insignificance.





Adjusting to life after loss – Maria Mead

We often find that much of our identity comes from our relationship with others. The loss of someone is often like losing a piece of ourselves, a limb perhaps. The closer we were to the person we lose the more of our self we need to redefine. How does a woman who calls herself a wife and mother for 25 years cope with losing her family in a car crash? How does a man cope with the death of the “love of his life” whom he was married to for 52 years?

We do not realise how much our lives are shaped by others until they are gone, leaving a residue of emptiness, hopelessness and despair. One of the first things to accept is that redefining your life is a process that involves soul searching, courage and faith and that it takes time. It’s not necessarily a case of totally letting go of who you were for you will always know what it is to be wife and mother or husband and provider or however else you may have defined yourself in your relationship and you will always relive the thoughts and actions that have shaped how you’ve seen yourself until now in your mind over and over again.  It’s about being able to adapt when the question “Now what?” arises. Destiny has chosen it’s own course and has ignored your plans. There is no wrong or right path to follow. For now, focus on what you do know about yourself and let that resonate with you for a while until you get your bearings.

In his book “Loss”, John Bowlby writes:

“Because it is necessary to discard old patterns of thinking, feeling and acting before new ones can be fashioned, it is almost inevitable that a bereaved person should at times despair that anything can be salvaged and, as a result, fall into depression and apathy. Nevertheless, if all goes well this phase may soon begin to alternate with a phase where the bereaved starts to examine the new situation and to consider ways of meeting it. This redefinition of self and situation is as painful as it is crucial, if only because it means relinquishing all hope that the lost person can be recovered and the old situation re-established. Yet until redefinition is achieved no plans for the future can be made.”

Each day will bring it’s own set of challenges. Take one step at at a time, it isn’t going to happen overnight. Redefining who you are can take many months and for many people it can take a lifetime. In time, you might find yourself engaging in a memory or thought that you enjoy. It may only be a fleeting moment of ‘peace’ but this becomes your first brick in rebuilding your shaky foundation. Notice what you like and dislike. Try out a new interest perhaps. Counselling can help you to  find the courage within if life just seems too overwhelming.

It may seem impossible at first, but step by step as you slowly start to re-build your life and re-visit memories with a mixture of both sadness and joy, you may wake up one day to find you are looking forward to what the day might bring instead of dreading it.