October 19, 2021

Episode 9: The fire alarm

Applying a new method when you’re overwhelmed by an intense feeling like stress or anger is almost impossible. Here is what you can do to quickly get back to calm and alignment to think clearly again.

What you will discover

  • Why an intense feeling acts like a fire alarm
  • The message that each feeling wants you to hear
  • What overthinking, jumping into action and freezing have in common
  • Why the only way across a feeling is through
  • How to manage an intense feeling


Mixed and produced by Adrien Grenier

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Episode Transcript

When you're overwhelmed by an intense feeling, it's very difficult to calmly and strategically find the next best course of action.

Hi, welcome to the Excellent Rider podcast. I'm Mélanie, I'm a certified life coach and I specialize in helping people like you get things done, find ease and motivation again and get unstuck when it feels like you've lost your mojo.

If you started using the tools that I'm sharing, you might have noticed that when you're reviewing a situation that happened a few days ago to analyze it using the method that I've shared, it's not so difficult to get a grip of the method and to apply it. But when you are in the situation itself and you feel an intense feeling like stress or shame or fear, irritation, anxiety…

Then the emotion that is washing over you is way too intense for you to think straight. And so it's difficult to remember what to do or even if you remember what you to do, to apply it and to have the kind of open-mindedness that is needed in order for you to apply the method. So when you're overtaken by an intense feeling, typically you get into tunnel vision and you cannot think rationally.

And it's very difficult to take a step back and to calmly apply the tools. It seems instead as if a disaster has happened. It's an emergency and you must respond now, now now. So today, what I'm going to do is I'm going to show you what you can do to get back to feeling calmer and aligned, so that you can then apply the different tools that I've shared and make the method work for you.

So, the image I want you to have in mind is when you are in a situation like this where you feel a very intense feeling – very intense unpleasant feeling – it's similar to being in a building when the fire alarm goes off. The fire alarm is designed to get you out of the building. So it's shrill on purpose, so that it's very unpleasant to your ears.

And so your natural inclination will be to move away from the source of the noise and therefore exit the building. And if you tried – and I do not suggest that you do, that I would be stupid – but if you tried to stay in the building anyway when the fire alarm goes off and focus on your work, you would find it very difficult to think strategically about a problem and to find solutions with an open mind.

And it's exactly the same with an intense feeling in your body. The feeling is designed to make you take a certain range of actions. So, for example, if you're angry, you will quite naturally feel like attacking and hitting.  You might not want to do it and you might not end up doing it, but that's what the feeling is enticing you to do.

If you're ashamed, you will quite naturally want to bury yourself under the earth and never be seen again.  If you're afraid you will naturally want to flee or hide; etc.  So each feeling will push you to take a certain range of actions.  And when you are overwhelmed by an intense feeling, it's very difficult to calmly and strategically find the next best course of action for you in that situation.

So, unfortunately, I have not yet found a way to make you exit your body and come back when the feeling has gone. So instead, I'm going to show you how to lower the intensity of the alarm in your body, how to lower the intensity of the feeling or even make it go away. And the way to do this is to experience the emotion with your body rather than with your mind.

So if you're anything like me, feeling your feelings or acknowledging your feelings is something that I was not at all used to doing and I was very uncomfortable doing. I was basically a brain and my body was some sort of vehicle that was designed to take my brain from meeting to meeting.

So if you're anything like that, maybe it's very strange or unusual or uncomfortable even to really go into your body and feel your feelings. And so the information I have for you today is that this is the way to go to the other side to where you don't feel the intense stress or the intense anxiety anymore, and to feel calm and collected again so that you can decide what you're going to do.

So, the way to feel your emotion with your body is to place your full attention on the physical sensations that are created by the feeling rather than place your attention on the situation itself, or on the fact that there is a problem, or on what has happened in the past or what will happen in the future around the situation and around the problem that you see.

And you want to do that because what happens in a situation where you experience an intense and pleasant feeling is that your brain thinks that you're about to have a very grave problem that you need to solve in order to stay physically alive.

And if you don't listen to the message that your brain is sending you, or if you put a lid on it or if you try to convince yourself that there is no real problem and you have no reason to feel like this, what will happen is that your brain will conclude that you are not hearing the alarm, and it will increase the volume.

So what you want to do instead is to really inform your brain that you have heard the message. You have heard that your brain thinks there is a problem and that you can take it over from there. But in order for your brain to know that you have heard, what you need to do is you need to notice where in your body the senstation is, and to keep your focus on this for a few minutes.

So it typically takes 5 minutes, but you can take up to 20 or 30 or even more minutes. It depends on how long it has been since the last time that you have actually placed your attention on your physical sensations related to a feeling; and it also depends on the intensity of the feeling itself; and it can also depend on the nature of the feeling.

So for example, if you're feeling intense grief, the grief by design will come back regularly during the day and over a period of weeks or months, but at least you can do the exercise that I'm going to explain in a minute every time that the feeling comes to you.

So if you have ever tried to meditate, you know that it's difficult to keep your focused attention on your body without your mind very quickly starting to wander. Typically what we do in meditation is that we try to focus on the breath, and so if you place your attention on your breathing and you just try to really focus and be really present to what happens in your body when you are breathing in, and where you feel the air, and what part of your body is expanding…

And then place your attention again on what's happening when you're exhaling and the sensations as the air is living your body… What happens is after 2 or 3 breath very quickly you start thinking about something that you need to do, or something that has happened or you start to see all the consequences of you meditating. I mean, your brain starts to go in a complete different direction.

So it's quite difficult to put your attention on something if all you're doing is just placing your attention on something.  But it's much easier to ask yourself questions and to answer the questions because the brain loves a question, and it loves to solve a problem and it loves to answer a question.

So what you're going to do, to keep your attention on the sensations in your body is that you're going to ask yourself tons of questions to describe in all the possible detail that you can imagine what is the physical sensation that you are experiencing right now. How does it feel like. So you're going to describe it as if you were trying to describe this to somebody who has never experienced what it means to have a human body.

So let's imagine that you're feeling irritated. So you're going to ask yourself: where do I feel the irritation in my body? How do I know that I'm feeling irritated. What's the physical sensations? So for me, when I'm irritated my whole body feels tense and my body has a tendency to be tilted forward, especially my chest and my head will be tilted forward;

and I have a tingling sensation in the shoulders and arms. And then my hands are balled up into fists.  I have a lot of energy in my arms. That's the typical reaction that I have when I'm feeling irritated or the sensation that I have. And then I'm going to ask myself which part of my body draws most attention to itself. And so right now, it's my arms. All right. So let's focus on the arms.

So this tingling sensation in my arms. Does it have a shape?  Yes, so it feels like little electrical stars that are rushing over the arms and towards the hands. So you're going to keep on describing the sensation to yourself. So where exactly does the sensation start? Those little electrical stars – so I'm taking electrical stars as an example because that's what I feel when I'm irritated;

but it could be a, it could feel like a ball of metal in your stomach or it could feel like a pressure on your throat; I mean, wherever the sensation is, right? So in this case, in the case of little electrical stars rushing all over my arms, I will describe where exactly does the sensation start. Does it start at the shoulder, does it start at the neck? Does it start in the middle of the arm?

I will try to be very precise and notice where exactly does this sensation... What are the borders of the sensation. Where does it end: does it end at the wrist? Does it end at the hand? Does it end at the tip of the fingers? And then I will try to notice the contours in my arm.  Is the sensation as big as my arm? Is it bigger than my arm? Is it smaller than my arm? Is it just like a tube of sensation in the middle of my arm for example?

And then I'm going to ask other questions to continue describing this sensation. Does this sensation have a color? Does it have a temperature? Does it have a texture? Does it move? And if it moves, how does it move? Does it pulsate? Does it rotate? Does it shift from side to side? Does it run alongside the arm? And if it's moving, what direction is it moving in?

And does it want to do something? Does it want to grab something or hit something? Does it want to exit? Does it want to go somewhere else? Does it want to expand? So you're going to describe in all the details that you can the sensation by asking yourself a lot of questions. Because that again that's the best way to keep your brain very focused on the sensation and on what’s going on.

And what you're going to notice, if you're really going into the sensation and describing it and really feeling it, you're typically going to notice that you would like the sensation to go away. And what I would like to offer is that you try to do something different: you try to welcome the sensation. So you try to relax as much as you can all around the sensation.

So, for example, if you have a tingling in your arms, you try to relax your shoulders. If you have a ball in the pit of your stomach, you will try to relax all around that ball, right? So try to relax and try to welcome it in the sense that you're going to tell the sensation that the sensation is welcome to stay there as long as it needs to stay there.

So it's exactly as if you had this backpack or if it's in your stomach as if you had one of those, you know in the 80s, it was very popular to have those pouches that you would tie around your waist to carry a wallet or something. So it's exactly as if you had one of those pouches your waist. You feel it.

It might feel tight and unpleasant, but it doesn't prevent you from doing anything that you have to do during the day. So, when you're focusing, just welcome it. Just notice that it's there, and just notice that you're still able to breathe; you're still able to do whatever you have to do during your day. It’s just that you have this unpleasant backpack that you're carrying around.

But it's okay. You're big enough. You’re strong enough to carry the backpack. And so the backpack can stay there as long as it needs to stay there. And the more you're going to relax and allow the unpleasant sensation to be there and not try to resist it or not try to push it away. Not try to tense yourself around it, but on the contrary relax, expand, welcome it;

the more you're going to do this, the more you're going to notice that the sensation is likely to transform.  And so it might get more intense for a little while or it might move in your body and go to a different body part. Or it might change color, change temperature, change shape... You will notice that it moves in some way. And as soon as it starts moving, that's a very good sign.

It means that you're actually processing it. It means that you're actually welcoming it and you're telling your brain that you have heard the alarm and that your brain can relax and can lower the volume. So the sensation might seem more intense. It might increase in intensity and that's completely okay. Just continue to do that. Continue to relax as much as you can.

Continue to accept that the sensation is there and that it might need to stay there for a while longer and that you don't know and you don't have control over how much more time it will stay there. But that it's okay with you.  That you are okay to have this sensation. Another image I like to give my clients is imagine if when you're cooking you cut your index finger a little bit deep.

So you put a band aid on your finger and then for the next few days, every time you do something with your hands, you will notice that it hurts a little bit. It's a bit sore on the tip of your finger. But it doesn't prevent you from doing everything that you want to do. You can still write with a pen. You can still tie shoelaces. You can still cook again if you need to;

but it's just that you have this feeling, this sensation that okay something is happening in the tip of my finger. Well, it's exactly the same when you're going to process and welcome your feeling: you're going to feel this unpleasant sensation, but it doesn't prevent you from doing everything else that you have to do. So the less you fight it, the more you welcome it; the more you allow it to be there;

and the more you will notice that it will start to transform. So if you try to force it to transform, or force it to move away, then it will probably intensify and be even more unpleasant. But if you just let it be there and welcome it and allow it to be there; then it's the opposite that will happen, it will probably start to move away.

And so, you just do that until you notice that the intensity has lowered enough for you to be able to start to think rationally again and start to think with an open mind rather than being in a tunnel-mode internal mindset.

So what you can do until next time we speak is that you can try to process a feeling whenever you have one. So every time you have an intense feeling – it doesn't need to be super intense stress or anxiety – it can just be a minor irritation, but just do this exercise: notice where the sensation is in your body and describe it to yourself in all the details that you can.

And relax around the sensation; allow the sensation to be there until you notice that the sensation has gone.  And don't do this when you are driving or taking care of a small child, or any situation where you need your focus on the outside world, okay? You really need to be in a moment where you can pay attention to what's going on inside of you.

You don't need to have a lot of time to do this. If you're in a meeting and somebody says something and you start to feel very stressed or very irritated, you can take 5 minutes between this meeting and the next meeting and just process your feelings for 5 minutes.

And if it's not enough, you can process your feelings again whenever you have a lunch break or a coffee break later on. So it doesn't need to happen immediately. You do it as soon as you can, but try to find a couple of occasions when you notice that you have an unpleasant feeling and process your feeling as it happens.

And this, it's very counterintuitive; it's something that we are not at all used to doing. It's something that many of you will decide oh, I'll skip that part. I don't want to do that. But when you actually start to pay attention to your sensations in that way and to welcome them and to process them, this is when you start to go through your feelings very very quickly.

Which means that you get back to feeling good, very, very quickly. And when you are able to feel good very quickly. It means that you're able to get back to whatever task you have at hand. Imagine, if anytime you're feeling stressed, anytime you're feeling anxious, anytime you're feeling irritated, you can get back to feeling calm within a few minutes;

imagine how much you would get done. So this is exactly what I'm offering you and this is a very counterintuitive and not usual exercise, I'm aware of it; but give it a try and give it a few tries. And it might take a few tries before you start to understand exactly how it works. Or notice that the sensation is moving away. But once you do, you will notice how incredibly powerful this is.

If you like what you heard today, you can go to my website excellentrider.com. So that's Excellent Rider in one word dot com and get the episode notes. They are organized in a structured way that makes them easy to remember and there's always additional exercises and illustrations so that you can go further with the notes, then you can go with the podcast.

If you really like what you heard, go to your podcast platform and leave me a review. You can Google how to do that if you're not sure how to proceed.  This helps the podcast be more visible. And that means that it will be easier to find by other people who need to hear exactly this message. And it's also a great encouragement for me.

If you felt that this information was valuable, it's the absolutely best way to let me know. I personally answer everyone who is kind enough to leave me a review.  Thanks a lot for listening today. I hope to talk to you again very soon because you my friend, even when you cannot get yourself to do what you want; even when you're stuck in negative emotions and unpleasant thought loops;

and even when you don't believe it, especially when you don't believe it, you absolutely rock. And you'll soon be an excellent rider. There's no bad horses, only untrained riders.

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