7 Steps to Feel Better After The Shock of Your Life

By amandaalexander | Resilience

I woke up this morning and got “the shock of my life”.  I’d drifted off to sleep at about 3am this morning and woke at 6.30 am to find out that the UK had voted to leave the European Union after yesterday’s referendum Feel Better After.

As the idiom goes, it really does feel like “the shock of my life”.

I’m not alone. Of the 16 million people in the UK who voted “Remain”, many are feeling equally shocked and devastated. It has been a tumultuous day in the UK. The victorious “out” side has hailed today as “Independence Day”, the UK Prime Minister resigned within an hour and the pound has plunged to a 31 year low, its biggest ever fall.

Devastated.. that’s a strong word, isn’t it? One of the dictionary definitions is this:

“With severe shock, distress, or grief”.

You might not be one of those 16 million who voted to leave the European Union, in which case you’re probably not feeling devastated!

However, you, or someone you know, might be experiencing shock, grief or distress for any number of reasons. If so, then this week’s post is for you. I’ve rigorously tried and tested steps 1 to 6 today and I use step 7 every single day of my life!

Ready? Then let’s help you to feel a little bit better…

1. Allow yourself to feel the emotions

Many people are afraid of strong emotions – both their own and others. Don’t be afraid. You’re allowed to feel!

This morning, as soon as the referendum result was announced, the outpouring of shock and grief on social media amongst my circle of friends was HUGE. This is simply what people do in times of stress – they reach out to others – and many of them express their emotions.

However, amongst the outpouring, a few were advising:

“What’s done is done. No use chewing over it. We need to deal with what has happened and move on”.

Actually – NO! Not only are people ALLOWED to be upset, angry, bereft after “the shock of their lives” – it is a normal, healthy response.

A study of people who lived to be 100 years old at Yeshiva University in New York found that emotional expression was a common trait, along with a positive attitude (but we’ll come to that in step 6)!

Whether you’ve lost your place in the EU, split up with your partner, lost everything you own or lost someone you love, you’re allowed to feel “negative” emotions! The grieving process is necessary for dealing with your emotions healthily and it shouldn’t be bypassed.

Please, don’t suppress your emotions after “the shock of your life”. How you express them is your choice entirely, as long as you do so safely and responsibly. You’re certainly not obligated to express your emotions publicly or on social media, but you ARE allowed to express them in a way that is fitting for you.

2. Go outside

After a weeping session over the phone to my mum, she instructed me to get dressed, make a coffee, pour it into a flask and go for a walk. I did what I was told, because mums are always annoyingly right, aren’t they?!

If you’re devastated, getting outside into nature won’t remove the cause of your devastation, but it will help you to reduce the harmful cortisol running through your body and build up some feel good endorphins instead.

Go outside, be “in nature”. It will, quite simply, give you a little respite from the shock.

3. Tend and befriend

There is scientific evidence demonstrating the female response to stress is to “tend and befriend”:

This is how the American Psychological Association explains the response:

“Tending involves nurturant activities designed to protect the self and offspring that promote safety and reduce distress; befriending is the creation and maintenance of social networks that may aid in this process. The biobehavioral mechanism that underlies the tend and befriend pattern appears to draw heavily on the attachment/caregiving system, and considerable neuroendocrine evidence from animal and human studies suggests that oxytocin, in conjunction with female reproductive hormones and endogenous opioid peptide mechanisms, may be at its core.”

In laymen’s terms, as women our natural response to stress – and one that produces positive physiological (and therefore psychological) benefits – is to look after our kids and draw upon our network of friends. And in particular our female friends. I called 3 of my girlfriends whilst out walking this morning. We cried and talked through our emotions with each other.

Call a friend and talk it through.

* A note for the blokes reading this!.. I’m not saying that men DON’T ‘tend and befriend’, but they certainly don’t do so to the extent that women do. This could be a good female trait for you to emulate, guys!

4. Accept, breathe and choose

My friend Clare Josa ran an excellent Facebook livecast this afternoon called “How to hold on to hope when the sh1t hits the fan”. She advises a 3 step process:

  1. Accept
  2. Breathe
  3. Choose how to respond

Simple and brilliant. You can get more details on this 3 step process and some other great “sh1t hitting fan” strategies via  the recording of Clare’s livecast here.

5. Create some structure amongst the chaos

Now that you’ve allowed yourself to cry, given yourself some space in nature, chatted with a friend, done Clare’s 3 step exercise, it’s time for a bit of tough self-love.

Write yourself a “to do” list of what you’re going to achieve today/tomorrow. Make it a very “back to basics” list. If you are hit by grief, you’re not going to be at your most productive.

Face this fact, but don’t let yourself descend into apathy and depression. The rule is this: Force yourself to achieve at least 5 things on your list. By applying some normality and structure to your day in times of shock, you will give yourself a float to cling onto as the waves buffet you.

Write a simple “to do” list for tomorrow. If you’re experiencing serious grief in your life, you can really go back to basics and add things you’d normally take for granted.

“Get a shower” and “get dressed” and “make my bed” are all allowed when your world has been turned upside down. Tick off each “achievement” as you go along.

By creating this very gentle structure and achieving some “normal” stuff, you will feel just that little bit better.

6. Get relentlessly positive

Tough love part 2. Dr. Sarah McKay of Your Brain Health says this:

“simply envisioning a different life may as successfully invoke change as the actual experience”

Your tough love part 2 task is to get relentlessly and creatively positive. Let your creative mind free. What positive might come out of this shocking situation, even if you think it’s unlikely? What ideas do you have to inch (not leap) towards a happier future?

Even if you never carry out any of your ideas, simply by imagining a future beyond the initial shock, you will engage your brain to help you to feel better.

7. Exercise your gratitude muscle

And last but not least.. that old chestnut.. GRATITUDE! This works every time and it’s my most well-used piece of advice.

Look around you and notice the things you are grateful for today. The more you train yourself to notice things to be thankful for, the more you’ll see.

When you’re experiencing trauma, developing an attitude of gratitude for the small joys in everyday life will develop your resilience – and feel better.  

Even after “the shock of your life”.

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