Yesterday's post 'Be a Lighthouse,' was about the importance of staying clear and calm when our kids are emotional. Today's follows up on that by making sense of emotions and offering some suggestions about how to work with our emotions.
An emotion is just an emotion--until we react to it. A feeling is not good or bad, and it isn't a choice or an action.
Emotions are grounded in the physical body and begin as a physiological response to a need that is met or unmet. We can feel that as sensation. That sensation is like a physical call to action that moves us to take care of the unmet need. This has served a good purpose evolutionarily. It helps a person who is being chased by a wild animal because it releases lots of energy to help them run.
It's less useful in our modern lives. If you are trying to get your child to school on time, you may feel stressed, frustrated, even angry in response to their dawdling. The adrenaline and cortisol released trigger a flood of physical energy which is unlikely to help you get your child out the door in a calm and reasonable way. Without a natural outlet (like running), your emotions may find expression through yelling or they may be stored up as stress.
So what do we do? Begin by recognizing the physical experience of emotions within yourself. What does it feel like when you're angry, worried, scared? If you know that fear or worry feels like tingling in the shoulder blades, for instance (as it does for me), you can learn to use that sensation as a reminder to be present rather than react.
When you recognize the sensations in yourself, establish a new habit of staying with the feelings rather than acting them out. You can give the physical energy a useful outlet by waving your arms hard for a minute, doing some push ups, or even washing dishes. Consider a physical outlet that you could try when you're flooded with energy.
You can also try a calming practice like deep breathing. As you breathe in, feel the inbreath. As you breathe out, feel the outbreath. Consider breathing in to the count of 4, holding your breath for 4, exhaling for 8, and holding the breath out for 4 several times. Or just make your exhales at least twice as long as your inhales.
These practices can help you to work with your emotions and sensations in healthy and constructive ways so that you can respond to parenting situations by staying calm, clear, and present for your child.
As a mom (to 2 teenage sons), wife, and person in the world, I have been on a long imperfect journey. I have made many mistakes, but with mindfulness, emotional reflection, and lots of support I have learned enormously from those mistakes.