Accessing your emotional toolbox
Accessing your emotional toolbox
We are living in one of the most unprecedented times in living history and it is important to recognise how exceptionally resilient we have been during the last few weeks in lockdown.
Without a doubt, there will have been times of fear, anxiety, hopelessness and despair, but amongst the tidal waves of raw and very big emotions, there will also have been moments of success, hope, love, laughter and togetherness.
You may be surprised to learn that you will have already been using tools from within your emotional toolbox to navigate these uncertain days. I hope to further awaken your sense of skill, by suggesting new and creative ideas to support you.
What happens to our bodies when we’re stressed?
In times of crisis, uncertainty and stress, our brains and bodies become dysregulated. This leads us to be in a fight or flight mode. We are waiting for the bear to come around the corner, so our concentration and ability to focus, as well as our productive and creative brain, will be significantly impeded.
Previous traumas, losses or anxieties may be reawakened and our behaviours and responses to our children and our own needs change. Old unwanted behaviours also become ever-present. If this happens, allow yourself time to notice, to stop, to listen to yourself and your responses and reflect upon how best to help yourself and your children.
Emotional responses will feel even bigger right now. That’s ok and to be expected, but remember that this too shall pass. I often think about how emotions change for adults and children alike during the course of a day, just as the waves change as they reach the shore.
We are under incredible strain as parents and often as employees trying to navigate working from home in a crisis while “home-schooling,” we need to dig deep. Learning to manage these uncomfortable emotions is a lifetime work but being mindful of them will help you to feel less overwhelmed and stressed.
In times such as these, our mental health needs need to be considered in order to also meet the needs of our children. It’s a case of putting our own ‘oxygen mask’ on first. Unless we do this, we're going to feel very dysregulated. You need to nourish your own basic needs, such as food, water and sleep (where you can get it) in order to successfully meet, contain and validate the needs of your children.
6 Tips for Staying Mentally Calm
Notice how your body is feeling. If you can, do a body scan.
- Are you feeling really tense? Where does the tension sit? In your hands? In your heart? In your toes?
- For children, a body scan can be completed in a very visual way - draw around their bodies either in chalk or pen and get them to label different parts of their body that feel feelings. For example, does their heart feel love? Where do they feel anger? Hurt? Excitement or worry? Activities such as these open up opportunities for discussion and growing emotional awareness.
Place your hand where you’re feeling most angst and try and ground yourself in the moment. By this, I mean STOP, DROP AND BREATHE
- STOP in the moment
- DROP everything you’re doing
- And take 3 deep BREATHS
This activity can also be used for children and helps to regulate yourself and them before reaching volcanic explosions and responses.
Choose one thing to do every morning that will help you to feel grounded or have a giggle, such as doing a dance like no one is watching or stretching, going for a walk and standing and listening to the nature around you.
This applies for your emotions and the emotions felt from your children. During these times, it’s to be expected that sometimes your emotions will overwhelm you and that of your child.
Remind yourself it’s OK to feel these big emotions and this too shall pass. Be compassionate with yourself and your children.
Resist the urge to run away from the emotion, just BREATHE. Expect the emotions that you’re feeling, notice how they move and change. By doing this, you will be helping to regulate your brain activity and reduce the flood of cortisol.
Every time you work through these big emotions, you’re emptying your ‘emotional rucksack’.
By developing your resilience, your children will mirror you and therefore you are doing an amazing job in developing their emotional regulatory behaviours too.
Things won’t always go right, it’s OK. Being reflective with yourself and your child about the less successful emotional moments is important too.
Expecting yourself to learn a new language or to clean and tidy our homes in Marie Kondo standard is not necessary right now, but it is important to give yourself permission to do something that you love for a few moments each day.
Encourage your children to think about creative ways to nurture their interests too.
- Plant sunflower seeds and water them daily, watching them grow
- Create an obstacle course on the street using chalk on the pavement
- Paint! Grab a paintbrush and some paint and just let the strokes of your brush flow, it’s amazing what your unconscious can tell you through this activity. See where your painting flow takes you.
Our brains like to live in the moment. As soon as we start thinking about what-ifs and what next, the little almond-sized part of our brain known as the ‘amygdala’ starts flapping away. It controls the emotional response panel in our brains, and it doesn’t know how to navigate the future.
It’s very much about trying to bring ourselves back to the present moment, which can be so difficult during such uncertain times. But psychologically, we know that our amazing creative, productive and resilient brains work best when we are in the moment.
For so much of this time, we have been navigating the sense of stress and worry that lockdown has brought to us as a nation. That said, we are incredibly adaptive beings and you will notice that over the course of the weeks your sense of heightened worry may have diminished slightly with time.
Recognise your and your child’s amazing adaptability and whilst we continue to experience waves of emotion congratulate yourself that you have come this far. Remember what you’re doing is good enough and hold on to that in the toughest of times.