Exams and results: taking steps to tolerating difficult emotions

For those receiving exam results today, we want to take a moment to acknowledge the fact that this is most likely a very big day for you, and how, in our response to “big days”, we can sometimes feel tripped up by overwhelming emotions.

However your results go today, keep in mind that it’s perspective and resilience for what comes at us in life is what matters.

Both of these things we have control over.

Resilience – having a tolerance for what life throws at us – is necessary in order to go about day-to-day life without experiencing overwhelming stress and anxiety. Google defines it as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties” – it’s something that people can naturally develop, or it can be something actively learned.

We know that people suffering with eating disorders can feel enormous pressure around exams, and that results can be a trigger for intensifying eating disorder behaviours. A tendency for “black and white” thinking can cause people to catastrophise quickly, whilst having little tolerance for – and a fear towards – the unknown. This is a lot for one person to process and deal with.

So, how can we take steps to tolerating overwhelming emotions?

Respond with compassionate curiosity by turning toward your emotions with acceptance

When we feel uncomfortable emotions – such as stress or anxiety – our experience can be so overwhelming that we may try to take control by repressing them.

Whilst this might feel like the “easiest” thing to do in the moment, in repressing emotions they can actually feel magnified under the surface. At this point, we may look outside of ourselves for perceived solutions – such as controlling our food, weight, or isolating ourselves from others who may be able to help us.

Turn towards your emotions – positive or negative – with acceptance. We are human and life can be challenging. Acknowledging and accepting that we’re experiencing challenge is the first step to overcoming this feeling.

Recognise the imperminence of emotions

Time heals. We’ve all experienced difficult emotions, and we’ve also experienced them passing. No matter how permanent and arresting they may feel in the moment – they eventually dissipate.

As we said above, our perception and perspective are two things that we can control. We are psychologically built to adapt and no matter the situation we always have a choice over our response.

Let go of controlling your emotions

It is ok to cry. It is ok to be angry. It is ok to be sad. In fact, it’s really important that you recognise your need to express how you’re feeling.

People suffering with eating disorders can resist expressing negative emotions for fear that they may consume them forever and they’ll be unable to return to a state of equilibrium.

As such, feeling our feelings and, within this, trusting that we are safe and in control is a really big milestone in recovery. Emotions are like colours of a rainbow; you need all of them to make up an entire spectrum.

Go gently by taking small steps and recognising the small victories.

Talk to loved ones who you know will hear and hold your experience

You do not have to be alone in these feelings. People will want to know if you’re doing ok.

Demonstrating vulnerability is not weakness and to quote the queen of vulnerability and shame, Brene Brown:

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing, it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.

Be courageous and let people witness and hold your experience.

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