My two year old is hungry and whining uncontrollably. I dropped her oatmeal all over the floor and we had to start the whole process all over. My husband is in a panic because our septic system alarm is blaring and we could have sewage backing up into the house if we don’t address this ASAP. It’s the start of a holiday weekend and we are supposed to be leaving to my in-laws this morning.
Yikes! I can feel my frustration level rising. My heart is racing. My head and shoulders feel tight. I want to scream!!
Ever been there?
Of course you have! We’re human.
It doesn’t take a crisis for our emotions to well up and take over. Everyday, ordinary life events are enough to make most of us move into a state of stress, anger, or sadness pretty quickly.
As a result we are a society of people more affected by stress related symptoms than any other country. A quick search on WedMD on how stress affects reveals that 75-90% of doctor’s visits are for stress-related complaints and ailments.
It will be impossible to eliminate all stress in our lives, but fortunately there are ways to practice more effectively managing your emotions and keeping your stress levels in check. And this just may make you a healthier person.
1. Practice meditation.
People who meditate are able to manage their emotions more effectively because they are operating from their neo-cortex. It’s that part of your brain that’s responsible for higher level, executive thinking. People who meditate use that part of their brain more often than non-meditators.
If you’re worried that you won’t be able to quiet your mind, don’t worry! There are many different types of meditation and some allow you to focus on your breath or a mantra. It’s less about clearing your mind and more about staying very present and focused. You can even find apps on your phone to help you meditate on the go.
2. Fill your cup regularly with radical self-care.
Self-care is the life-blood of inner peace. You’re much more likely to be triggered and become upset or angry if you are exhausted and overwhelmed. Make time for self-care everyday, even if it’s only 15 minutes. Self-care doesn’t need to be some grand ritual. It can be as simple as taking a quick bath, going for a walk, skipping down the road, or having a dance party right in your own living room.
Once your needs are met you can more easily handle stressful situations that would otherwise cause you to lash out and burst into tears. You must take time to honor your own needs if you want to take your ability to effectively manage your emotions to the next level.
3. Put yourself in time out.
Time outs are no longer just for children! As adults sometimes we need to step away from the situation that is causing us to feel out of control. It’s ok to excuse yourself for a 5 minute (or more) break to regroup. I would often escape to the bathroom when I was having a difficult time controlling my emotions at work.
No one will ever say no and it gave me time to calm down before coming back into a stressful situation. Now as a mom I send myself to timeout (often in the bathroom!) and explain to my daughter that mommy needs a few minutes to calm down. It’s a great way to model putting our needs first.
4. Allow yourself to really feel the emotion.
This may seem counterintuitive but it’s critical for us to release the energy of the emotion. You can really engage the emotion by acknowledging it and breathing into it. Think of your breath as a gentle caress that can move the emotions through your body. Too often we resist heavy, uncomfortable emotions that we deem as negative.
However all emotions have a purpose. They are arrows pointing to the areas within ourselves that we need to tend to. If we don’t allow ourselves time to fully feel the emotions they will remain stuck in our bodies and result in physical symptoms at some point.
It’s perfectly acceptable to regroup when needed but be sure to take the time necessary once you are in a safe place to scream into that pillow, have an ugly cry or write in your journal to release those emotions.
5. Tend to your inner child.
Living with a two year old is like living with a caveman. They can’t really express what they want, they are slower, shorter and less capable than their siblings and parents and they don’t have the mental faculties to control their emotions.
But most of our beliefs about who we are and how we fit in the world are established before two. So when you are feeling overwhelmed with difficult emotions imagine the young child in you and ask what they need in this situation.
Often you’ll be surprised how often the inner child in us wants a hug, or just to slow down. Too often as children we are told “Don’t cry” or “It’s OK” when that’s not really what we need or want in the moment. So as adults we need to lovingly honor those wants and needs.
6. Practice loving compassion for yourself and others.
Sometimes when we get upset we move into this cycle of self-hate. There is some event that triggers us, but then, we start beating ourselves up because our emotions are getting the best of us. Then we can’t think rationally because we are stuck in a self-perpetuating emotion vortex. Instead try practicing extreme, radical compassion.
You can begin with curiosity asking what are these emotions trying to communicate. Then appreciate the emotion for ringing the alarm so you could look at this situation as a learning opportunity. Finally repeat a positive mantra. You can find one that works for you but I like “I’m am loved and supported even if I get upset.”
7. Create more choices.
One reason emotions such as fear, anxiety, judgement, hurt and humiliation, come to the surface is because we can’t see any viable choices in front of us. When we feel helpless and stuck of course we would feel a wide array of challenging emotions. It’s important to recognize that we always have a choice. Even staying in the same situation is a choice, and sometimes it is the best choice we can see.
When we practice all the steps above, we are much more likely to be in a state of clarity. Take advantage of this clarity by writing down five new options available for you the next time you are feeling overwhelmed with emotion. This is like having a roadmap leading you straight to happiness.
As I’m navigating my crazy morning I remember to take a deep breath and I pick up my daughter. She immediately stops whining and I slow down and acknowledge her feelings. She’s hungry and I let her know it’s ok to be mad.
I offer some raisins to keep her busy for a few more minutes while her oatmeal cools down. I ask my husband what he needs from me while he’s addressing the septic system alarm. Turns out our pump shorted and turned off. Easy fix! And I grab a handful of peanuts until I can sit down for breakfast because otherwise I may be throwing a tantrum of my own soon.