03/01/2014 05:53 GMT | Updated 04/03/2014 05:59 GMT

Severe Weather - of the Emotional Kind

It could be metaphors for emotionally difficult times and challenges, personal crises and struggles, heightened anxiety, depression, perhaps even breakdown: Exceptional weather ... 'Triple whammy of conditions' ... rivers bursting their banks ... severe flood warnings.

Like tidal waters, life for all of us has a rhythm of ebbs and flows, highs and lows. When the soil is saturated from too much rain, streams and rivers can break their banks. When we have taken on too much, are mentally or physically exhausted from extraordinary circumstances or the slow drip-drip effect of every day pressures, we may exceed our own limitations.

While the Environment Agency issues warnings and the Cobra emergency committee considers the UK's flood response, what is our own warning and response system in moments of severe difficulties and threat? Some call it intuition, flight or fight or inner voice.

Some of us have a very delicate, sensitive and finely tuned internal radar that picks up signs of danger. Others are more or less constantly tuned to the 'attack and defense channel', always ready to expect the worse, tense, anxious, highly irritable and stressed. Probably for good reason. Probably there have been reasons to be anxious and the warning system has offered important protection, but can no longer differentiate between real and imagined threat. Yet others may have a poorly designed warning system or its reception receives constant interference from the consumption of substances (including alcohol, cigarettes and food) or other habitual activities, which influence mental and emotional functioning.

There are flood barriers to help maintain manageable and safe water levels. We have emotional barriers and coping mechanisms. We can adopt healthy boundaries, values and principles to help manage ourselves in relation to others and life in general. It is a way of protecting ourselves and regulating our emotional and physical energies, so we are hopefully in good shape, when faced with exceptional and unpredictable life circumstances.

It may not work all of the time. But we are able to learn lessons and build on them.

After a river has broken its banks, a variety of debris, wood, bottles, plastics bags, the odd shoe, and other more or less recognizable items often accompany the tidemark left behind. You can find yourself watching and even picking up the pieces discarded by someone else or belongings swept away by the strong tide. In moments of personal crisis we can also get swept away, and are left to pick of the pieces of our own lives or those of others.

The weather and seasons are changeable; so are we. While we may try to preserve some control, routine and predictability in our lives, the unexpected may always be lurking around the next corner - sunshine or rain, happiness or sorrow, pain or relief, birth or death, a smile or a tear.

Karin Sieger

MA (Couns.Psych.), Reg. MBACP (Accred)