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June 20, 2013 8:26 PM   Subscribe

What do you do when you are overwhelmed in a good way? What do you do with those feelings?

I thought this question had been asked before (or at least mentioned somewhere) but I can't find the answers I was looking for, so here we go.

Sometimes I get completely overwhelmed in a positive way. (Strangely, this often happens when I am driving or traveling somewhere. Being in transit tends to elicit a big emotional response from me.) Lately, on my drive home from work, I am overcome with a strong sense of contentment and an awareness of my good fortune. I usually just take a minute to be thankful for where I am and the good in my life, but sometimes it's so overwhelming and I don't know what to do with that. Sometimes I think of actionable ways to show my gratitude - I'll e-mail a friend and thank them for being helpful, I'll call my partner and tell him how wonderful he is, I'll pick up a cupcake for my neighbour to show my appreciation for her, etc. But sometimes I can't think of anything to do and I have this "stuck" feeling.

I try my best to be a kind person and return favours where I can, pay it forward, that kind of thing. But when I am in this overwhelmed state, I really don't know what to do with myself. Sometimes I end up crying, sometimes I take a nap. It's almost like my brain can't handle the surge of good feelings and I shut down. I've dealt with depression and anxiety in the past, so I know it could be that I haven't yet learned how to cope with what it means to be happy.

I've kept a journal in the past, but I usually keep it up for a week or so before I get lazy and stop writing. Are there ways I can use this positive energy? Should I be expressing it somehow? I'm not artistically talented in any way, so expressing things through painting or writing aren't such a great idea for me.

What do I do with these feelings? How do I use this in a productive way, rather than letting it overwhelm me to the point where I have to shut down for a little while? I realize this is kind of a silly question, and a good "problem" to have, but it's been on my mind for a while now.

Thank you.
posted by gursky to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not artistically talented in any way, so expressing things through painting or writing aren't such a great idea for me.

I don't think this has, or should have, stopped many, many people from creating important art. If only people who were innately talented created art, the ranks of great artists would be greatly diminished (because many of THEM weren't innately talented).

That's just to say -- don't count yourself out of painting and writing.
posted by Unified Theory at 8:50 PM on June 20, 2013

Best answer: I don't have a good general solution to your problem, but I'm definitely familiar with it! The best I can recommend is to take the time to really enjoy the feeling - which for me often takes the form sitting somewhere random and staring off into space. I don't count this as shutting down - more like being present in my life.

A while ago I was so happy and thankful that it was distracting me from my work, so I channeled that into spending a few hours writing a three-page thank you letter to my boss. This actually helped to prolong the feeling, and helped me to analyze what had been so perfect about the job, which has already helped me as I try to plan a career that will make me happy. I eventually decided to deliver the letter, and as an added bonus, it was much appreciated.

Another time I had a calmer sense of contentment, and wound up sitting and staring at the Triton fountain in Rome for an hour and a half, on a rainy winter night. I have no idea what about that exact location resonated so much with me, but I wanted to prolong the sense of contentment as much as possible. But yeah - I was kind of "stuck" there, if that's what you meant =)
posted by Metasyntactic at 8:55 PM on June 20, 2013

Do you have any other creative outlets that you enjoy? If journalling doesn't work for you, photography is good for this sort of thing because it is likely that you have a cell phone with a camera with you most of the time. I think it's great to focus on gratitude, as you mentioned. I'd just keep trying to find an outlet that you enjoy. That could be knitting - but that could also be biking/exercise.

(I can totally relate. I had this problem after I quit smoking and realized that being happy and/or inspired could be just as overwhelming as being depressed. I asked an askme about this about a year ago. I felt cut off, as you mentioned. Especially because working on creative projects had always been my outlet for strong emotions and writing as well as drawing were still triggering serious nicotine cravings in me. I avoided the very things I loved to do for a while and felt like I had nowhere to put those feelings. This is why I think a creative outlet may be the answer for you.)
posted by marimeko at 9:01 PM on June 20, 2013

Singing could be a good way to let out some of those feelings. Try singing along to a song you really love while you drive.
posted by MadamM at 9:23 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

Call someone you love and talk to them for an hour on the phone!
posted by oceanjesse at 9:42 PM on June 20, 2013

Or you could write letters to prisoners. The bar is very low.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:43 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

This happens to me all the time. You've said that keeping a journal doesn't work for you, but for me it's essential to make some kind of note of these strong incursions of joy when they occur. Writing them down helps me anchor them. Once I recognize and articulate the feelings, they become less overwhelming, and seem to morph into a familiar, welcome feature of my world.

So I'm going to second marimeko's suggestion of taking a photo when it happens, if only to make a deliberate mark of the occasion.
posted by tangerine at 12:51 AM on June 21, 2013

Singing, especially when driving a car or riding a motorcycle, works well for me. It allows me to express happiness, sadness, anger... Try it some time. No one is listening, so there is no need to care about how you sound.

Also seconding Unified Theory that you don't need talent to express yourself through painting, sculpting or any other artistic means. It's about the process, not about the results. That said, the results may surprise you.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:45 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I know exactly how that feels! I get it, too, usually when I'm in transit and feeling very self-sufficient and confident and content. I haven't totally figured out how to satiate the need to express or share this positive vibe that's washing over me, but so far I've found the best thing for me is to just go with the flow and do whatever I feel like doing, enjoying the emotions, the present moment.

I'm too much of a perfectionist that if I attempt any of my artistic hobbies it ends in frustration, so I try to do something physical to express the energy. If I'm in the car I turn up the music and sing along as loud as possible. When I get home I go for a long walk and enjoy the smells and sounds and beauty of nature around me (and also stop for froyo). Taking deep breaths and interacting with others I meet along my route generously and in kind (I met a super cool new neighbor the other day while doing this!). Then afterwards I take a deliciously long, hot shower.

I also really enjoy cleaning and organizing, so I take a few hours and rearrange my bedroom or clean the bathroom. I usually have music going or a favorite tv show/movie playing in the background to keep the energy up. It feels good to cross a few things off the to-do list.

So I'd say try being physically active and channeling that energy into keeping your body and surroundings healthy and clean.
posted by E3 at 9:46 AM on June 21, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. I appreciate your input!

E3: your response was eerie - I think you and I are very much alike! Describing it as "feeling very self-sufficient and confident and content" is exactly what I wanted to say. Also, I love cleaning and organizin, but I tend to do deep/"spring" cleaning when I am angry or frustrated to use up that energy. I think I should switch to cleaning when I am happy and see how it goes - I think I'll enjoy it more. Thanks!
posted by gursky at 8:49 AM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

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