Social Unrest is Emotional—Here’s How to Gain Control of Intense Emotions

We live in times of big change and events of unprecedented, global impact, living for weeks with uncertainty and fear of pandemic, emotional and logistical challenges of social isolation, and sometimes devastating effects of recession. More than anything, all this social unrest is emotional.

The world we live in has changed in the last 12 weeks. 

It feels uncertain, unsafe, and we don’t know what to expect. It’s hard to make sense of all the changes we’re facing, and difficult to find a new normal within waves of big emotions.

We’re already worn out and exhausted from staying home for many weeks, adjusting to remote work and school and the demands of childcare. It’s felt like it can’t get any worse.

And then, in the last week, there’s been a surge of social unrest and protests against racism and police brutality. The news is full of violence, hate, fear, and politics. Some of our families and communities are in danger and all of them are experiencing the strife of knowing our friends and neighbors are in pain and suffering injustices.

For those of us in close proximity to the unrest, we fear for our safety. And those of us who are further geographically experience powerlessness and anxiety for the wellbeing of our brothers and sisters and the state of our country.

We have all experienced fear during the pandemic, and a variety of losses that came with it. All of us lost our daily routines and some of our personal freedoms. Some of us lost jobs and income, friends and family members. Life as we know it has changed, and we are mourning.

Now, we add to that a resurgence of the pain for every American who experiences racism and police brutality—our friends, neighbors, relatives, brothers and sisters, and ourselves.

Social Unrest is EMOTIONAL

Social Unrest Can Cause Fear

Violence and brutality impact everyone who witnesses it, whether that’s directly, or on television, social media, or hearing second-hand through conversation. Violence invades our thoughts and our sense of wellbeing. It invokes fear, anxiety, and stress.

What’s more, for some who already suffer from the disorder, it can also trigger the symptoms of PTSD.

Social Unrest Can Cause Anger

If you’re feeling scared, confused, and even angry, you are not alone.  Most of us feel the same. With such intensity of pain, violence, and fear all around our nation, it is common to experience any of the following emotions:

  • Hopelessness
  • Despair
  • Irritation
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Sadness

It’s important to remember, though, that anger can be positive. It moves us forward. Anger gives us the energy and drive to make changes.

These days, the anger is driving us to become more aware of racial injustice. It’s sparking more movements and the participation of more people.

With all these people and all this energy, we can change racial and class disparities. This poem by Leslie Dwight may serve as inspiration:

What if 2020 isn’t cancelled?
What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?
A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw-
that it finally forces us to grow.
A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us
from our ignorant slumber.
A year we finally accept the need for change.
Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.
A year we finally band together, instead of
pushing each other further apart.

2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather
the most important year of them all.
                                    -Leslie Dwight

How To Gain Control of Intense Emotions:

Reflect

The cause for this social unrest is racism, brutality, and other racial injustices.

In light of this, we can reflect on our experiences and realities in regard to the issue at hand. Those of us who are white can reflect on how we feel about the fact that many of us have the benefit of white privilege and class superiority.

How do we see that in the work we do and the ways we live our lives? If we work in mostly white spaces, how do we feel about that? How do we experience our work with black and POC clients or coworkers? Where do we experience injustice in our work?

This type of reflection may bring up feelings of guilt, sadness, or even fear. That’s okay. The reflection is part of the awareness that can continue to drive us forward toward solutions and change.

Acknowledge Feelings, and Really Experience Them

It’s okay to have intense, negative reactions to the strife of social unrest: pain, sadness, guilt, shame, anger, the gamut.

Accepting the full range of your feelings rather than resisting or denying them allows you to move past them. It doesn’t mean wallowing in the negative, but embracing the feeling fully so that it can pass and maybe you can take action as a result.

Get Informed

Make sure to use reputable sources, and stay informed. Perhaps you choose one reputable source to follow every day, or perhaps you read your favorite five sources once a week. Staying informed helps combat feelings of powerlessness and uncertainty.

It is also important to unplug after a while, and allow your mind and emotions to rest. You have taken in the information you need and can now spread awareness and take actions you see as appropriate.

Turn Anger into Action

Social unrest is emotional kindling, so avoid allowing anger to turn into violence. Instead, use the anger constructively. Consider it the fuel to your fire of action. Which issues do you feel are most pressing? Which “fights” do you want to “fight”?

In what ways can you get involved? Are you a feet-on-the-streets person? Do you feel compelled to fund an organization that is tackling your issue? Can you donate items to the cause that addresses your biggest worry?

Seek Support

Now that you’ve put words to the fact that social unrest is emotional and draining, take the opportunity to seek support. Discuss current events with your family and friends. Join a community of people passionate about creating the changes you want to see, too. Don’t be alone.

Dr. Irena offers online therapy for women and couples in Texas and New York City. She uses research-proven method, known as Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) to help couples develop and maintain the emotional connection and support each other through stressful times. She has helped highly distressed couples be available and responsive to each other, access their resiliency, and strengthen their relationships.

If you would like to schedule a session, email Dr. Irena for a free 10-minute video consultation: [email protected] or call (281)-267-1742.

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