Overwhelmed with a Sea of Emotions

Tips for Coping


Robin B. Zeiger, Ph.D.

Illness suddenly strikes out of the blue and it is all too easy to become flooded with a sea of emotions.  Numbness and denial may be followed by anger, sadness, and/or anxiety.  Sometimes one experiences a roller-coaster of emotions – one minute hopeful and the next in deep despair.  Then there are those nights, one lies awake obsessing over the worst.  Sleep may be accompanied by vivid nightmares.  Others may feel lethargic and depressed, preferring to stay in bed and not face the day.  Sometimes one is plagued with fits of crying – often at the most inopportune moments.  For many, life must go on.  Work and family obligations do not stop.  How does one cope?

1.       Recognize that the flood of emotions is normal.  Don’t beat yourself up or try to suppress them.    Give yourself permission to cry and to express your anger and fear. Sometimes scheduling enough time to emote is enough to help.  There is so much written today. Go to the bookstore or the local library or look online. Find articles of comfort that speak specifically to you. 

2.       Surround yourself with folks who can provide support.  Some of us are blessed with lots of friends. Others may have one or two friends. It is always better to have many sources of support. Thus, we don’t have to feel we are burdening one or two people.   There are many local support groups and online groups that offer assistance.  The whole world is open to you via the internet.  Thus, sometimes it is easier and more convenient to find an on-line friend or two who is going through a very similar situation. 

3.       Take care of yourself.  If you are the caretaker and /or friend or family member of someone who is ill, make sure to also take care of yourself.  It is too easy to run here and there trying to fix things and take care of others.  Make time to have a cup of tea and/or schedule a treat for yourself – whether it is a warm brownie, a massage, or a short trip somewhere to rekindle your own energy.    


Some Inexpensive Ideas for Taking  Care of Yourself

Schedule a cup of coffee with a friend.

Go to the local bookstore, buy a cup of tea, and curl up with some books

Take a walk along the river, the beach, or down a pretty path.

Schedule a warm bath with a pretty smelling candle.

Watch a movie with a friend – if you need to cry pick a sad movie; if you need to laugh find a comedy.

Bake some bread. When kneading the dough – put all your anger in the process.

Take the time to exercise. It is a good way to get rid of excessive energy.



4.       Find a safe place for your feelings.  You may chose a journal or a new art project.  Maybe you have one friend who is willing to “hear” all your feelings.

5.       Do something to feel in control.  Often when we feel overwhelmed, we feel out of control.  There are many things we cannot control – including the outcome o f the disease. 

a.       For some folks, finding every piece of information about the illness helps. 

b.      For others, religious ritual helps – e.g., prayer.

c.       For yet others, doing something proactive- such as volunteering for a charity or writing a blog for the community. 

d.      It is particularly helpful to help children find ways to do something – whether it is giving charity, praying, helping others. 

6.       Honor and discuss your feelings of guilt.  Individuals suffering from illness experience guilt, as well as family members.  This is sometimes the hardest response to talk about.  It is easy to come up with all types of things to feel guilty about. “I didn’t treat so and so nicely before she was sick.” Or “I didn’t notice the warning signs earlier.”  Or maybe, “God is punishing me for such and such.”  Or even, “If only I had a healthier lifestyle.”   Remind yourself of all the not so nice folks who are very healthy and all the saintly friends who have suffered.  And find the right person to talk to – whether it is a trusted minister, rabbi, or friend.

7.       What happens when you can’t control your crying?  You are at the grocery store or at work and the tears just come. Perhaps you don’t want to have to explain the story to everyone.  It is just too much or too private. 

a.       Write a brief blog or email explaining the situation to friends and coworkers.  If you don’t want to talk about it – let them know.

b.      Ask a trusted friend to “warn” folks and let them know how they can help.

c.       Allow yourself to cry. Sometimes scheduling times and places for this helps.  Perhaps you need a safe place at work to retreat every once in a while.  Maybe you need a special colleague who can just give you a hug and some tissue.  Let people know how to help.  They often don’t know and may even avoid you to avoid doing something wrong.

8.       What about the middle of the night blues?  Sometimes having a friend on the other side of the ocean helps. The time zone difference allows you to phone or Skype with them.  Sometimes getting up and writing an e-mail or journaling helps.  There are also some wonderful 24-hour hotlines with volunteers who are more than willing to chat with you. 

9.       It is okay to seek out professional help.  Some folks just need a session or two to vent and to express their fears and anger.  It is okay to seek out a therapist for a short amount of time. It is also okay to build a relationship with a therapist and just make appointments as you need them.  Sometimes illness triggers unresolved issues from our past – such as unresolved feelings and fears from previous losses or illnesses.  In this case, it is a good idea to seek out therapy to work through some of these issues. 


Robin B. Zeiger, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in 1985 and has over 25 years of experience with children, adults, families, and couples. She most recently worked in Richmond, Virginia before immigrating to Israel in 2009. Her specialties include depression, anxiety, stress management, creativity, spiritual issues, dream analysis and sand-tray therapy.  She is in private practice at Creative Therapy for Personal Growth. She provides psychotherapy, supervision, and training both in person and via Skype.  She is also an international member of the American Psychological Association and is a freelance writer.  To learn more about her go to www.robinzeiger.com or robinzeiger.wordpress.com

You can e-mail her at [email protected] 


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