“Today is one of those days when I could restore myself to the default factory settings” (ANON)

Feeling overwhelmed, weighed down by concerns and buffeted by moments of extreme anxiety seem to be a significant part of the experience of life for most people over the past few years. The uncertainty that has been created by both natural and man-made disasters and pressures is starting to take its toll and people are struggling emotionally, finding it very difficult to cope socially, financially, and emotionally. Many are even taking their own lives to end all their pain.

Restoring a computer to default factory settings means resetting the computer to the original settings for the device when it was first delivered from the factory – a process which is sometimes necessary if the user has made many preference changes to the settings of the device, thus either slowing it down or causing it to freeze completely. The default factory settings usually set the device free to operate as originally intended. Whilst totally appropriate and helpful for computers and many other devices, the same is not true for the human being. We can’t simply return to default factory settings. Our default settings have been corrupted and complexified radically – so much so, in fact, that our survival and protection instincts seem to be activated constantly, creating ongoing stress and further pain.

Overcoming distraught feelings (with subsequent lack of productivity and emotional paralysis) usually requires both self-action (to overcome inaction) and outside assistance. The steps could include the following:

  1. Understanding your physiology – with intense negative emotion, cortisol (the stress hormone) is released and surges through your body, leaving you overloaded with anxiety. Simultaneously, serotonin reserves (the chemical that assists our bodies in fighting off depression) become depleted. This combination causes the intense feeling of total despair associated with being overwhelmed.
  2. Accepting your emotional state – ignoring how you are feeling and just getting on with life is not helpful at all. Your emotional disposition needs to be acknowledged, owned, and acted on. All emotion needs resolution, whether positive or negative. Admit that you are overcome with anxiety and resolve to do something about it.
  3. Framing the size of the emotional issue accurately – when distraught, people tend to feel pain disproportionately to (much larger than) the actual size of the issue. A good question that could be asked is as follows: “Is my whole life ruined, or is just a piece of my life causing me pain?” On this point, many people need help with reframing the issue and understanding its depth. Seek professional help where necessary.
  4. Articulating the causes of the emotional pain – defining the source/s of the distress is particularly helpful. This provides the opportunity to distinguish between things that can be changed or influenced (like being bullied) and factors that are out of your control (like the death of a loved one). Journaling is useful to jot down what can be changed and with whom you need to connect to bring about these changes.
  5. Taking small steps in the direction of your chosen changes – think about one task or one activity that will move you forward. Thinking too far into the future may prove to be overwhelming. Achieving small goals starts recalibrating your thoughts towards what is possible.
  6. Using available resources – apart from excellent available literature on the issues you face, consider appointing a mentor, coach, or therapist to assist you with your emotional journey.
  7. Exercising regularly – routine exercise forces you to breathe more deeply and increases oxygen absorption into the blood, so necessary to think clearly. Make time to relax and create an environment where you can sleep well.

Overcoming distraught feelings is vital for mental health and emotional wellness. All human beings experience stress and anxiety at certain times – these feelings are normally related to a specific set of circumstances, circumstances that often can be changed or modified. As we take ownership of our emotional wellness, we will find ways of dealing with the factors that cause intense pain without have to be restored to default factory settings.

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