The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably brought unprecedented challenges, rocking most people’s emotional wellbeing. Caring for someone during this trying period can be a bigger challenge too, as the caregivers struggle to cope with the stresses brought on by the pandemic. In this article, SPD’s senior psychologist Wencina Clement highlights the importance of keeping in tune with our emotions, especially in these exceptional times.
What are emotions
Emotions are automatic reactions that we experience with our bodies. While we are able to figure out what we are feeling sometimes, there may also be times when this is not so clear.
For example: When I see a stray dog in the park, my heart may start to beat faster as I recall an unpleasant incident in the past about a stray dog. I may say to myself as I start to perspire, “This is scary!”. Or, my heart may also beat faster as I watch my child run his/her first race on Sports Day. But I may not be able to say whether I am afraid that my child might not win, or if I am feeling something else entirely such as excitement.
What gives rise to emotions
Situations that we face, or when we see others facing, or that we imagine or recall, evoke some emotions in us.
- A school event— e.g., Award /Graduation ceremony of my child;
- An interaction with a person or a group – e.g., parent forums, a chat with a fellow caregiver;
- A loss – e.g., a recent sickness or death of a loved one;
- Remembering or imagining a situation- e.g., the birth of my child.
Why expressing emotions is important
Appropriate expression of our emotions can help us and those around us in the following ways:
- Communicative: Showing or expressing our emotions can help to give clues or communicate with others our emotional state and intentions.
e.g., when I am sad I may cry; others will then realise that I am not happy, or that there could be something that is disturbing me.
- Social: Expressing or showing our emotions can help us form, maintain, or even terminate relationships.
e.g., when I smile after receiving a greeting or gift, it may mean I like what was given (greeting or gift) and in turn, the giver feels happy for giving it to me – which may form or strengthen our relationship.
- Protective: Research has shown that we can achieve better health when we learn to express our emotions appropriately. Also, emotions can help us to make decisions that could protect us from potential risks or danger. e.g., I may decide to avoid spending time alone with someone I feel afraid of.
How individuals express their emotions
Emotionally mature adults generally express and manage their emotions in the following ways:
- Expressing emotions and feelings using suitable words and actions.
- e.g., frowning when someone passes a rude comment in a meeting.
- Succinctly stating (when appropriate) the cause for their emotion.
- e.g., when asked, explain simply, “I am angry because I do not like the comment that you have just made.”
- Managing their behaviour while expressing their emotions in a socially accepted manner. This is done to maintain the relationship and decorum.
- e.g., speak privately to the person who passed the comment, without shouting or arguing, and listen to his/her response.
- Finding ways to calm themselves when experiencing negative feelings.
- e.g., excuse myself to leave the room, take a coffee break or go for a quick walk for some fresh air.
- Tapping on resources to heal from traumatic events.
- e.g., seeking professional help.
On the other hand, there may also be some who choose to express their emotions through other ways such as these:
- Overreacting e.g., Slamming the door, shouting, walking out…because someone spilled coffee on my sofa.
- Underreacting e.g., Saying “it’s ok!” even though I am furious about the coffee stain on my sofa.
- Suppressing true feelings e.g., Trying to push away the anger that I am feeling, and telling myself: “I’m not angry…a stained sofa is no big deal.”
Looking after our emotional wellbeing
Depending on our upbringing, culture, environment, and personal experiences, we all express our emotions differently. Though we often cannot choose the emotions that arise, we can choose the ways we express and manage them. Here are some tips to care for our emotional wellbeing:
Develop Proactive Routines
- Regular exercise, prayer, meditation or diet.
- Regular meet ups with a friend.
- Seek honest feedback from someone you trust about how you are managing your current situation.
- Be more aware of your emotions and the role they play in your life.
e.g., reflect on any impact your emotions had in recent decision-making: did I sign the insurance package because I felt happy chatting with my agent or, did I like the policy itself?
- Do some enjoyable things alone.
e.g., a walk, eating an ice cream, enjoying a movie night.
Manage Expression of Emotions
- Respectfully express or show your true emotion through words, actions or facial expressions.
- Take a break (e.g., go for a coffee break or a quick walk for fresh air) when you are upset.
- Stay hydrated when expressing negative emotions as stress and dehydration are linked.
- Keep a journal to track your changing emotions, observe any patterns, and find ways to manage your emotions better over time.
- Praise or treat yourself when you have managed your emotions well.
 Example: Counselling and Care Centre (https://www.counsel.org.sg)