We are living in uncertain times and both adults and children are having to adapt to new situations for over a year. Building resilience is not easy and there are powerful ways to help both ourselves and our children.
Negative emotions like fear, sadness, and anger are an essential part of life and we frequently struggle with how to deal with them adequately. We often act too quickly on what we’re feeling, and yet that doesn’t fix the situation that caused the triggers. In fact, it may lead to more problems or enhance the situation.
What are the most common ways to deal with negative emotions?
In some cases, initial short-term denial can be a good thing, giving you time to adjust to a painful or stressful issue. Being in denial gives your mind the moment to unconsciously absorb distressing information at a pace that won’t send you into an emotional tailspin. As your mind grasped the issue, you can start to approach the problem more rationally and then take action.
However, denial has an unhelpful side.
Ignoring that something is wrong is a way of coping with emotional conflict, stress, painful thoughts, threatening information and anxiety. You can be in denial about anything that makes you feel vulnerable or threatens your sense of control. You can be in denial about something happening to you or to someone else.
Consider these examples of unhealthy denial:
- The parents of a teen with (screen, drug) addiction keep giving their child “clothing” money.
- A person with constant fatigue, physical pain and unstable emotions doesn’t believe those symptoms signal a possible burn-out, and delays getting help or reducing the workload.
In situations such as these, denial might prevent getting better and finding solutions. Denial can have the situation spiral out of control with potentially long-term consequences. It is a temporary measure as it won’t change the reality of the situation. If you feel stuck or if someone else is in denial, you can try asking these questions:
- What are you afraid of (honestly)?
- What are the negative consequences of not taking action?
Understand Your Emotions
‘Recognising your emotions and learning to manage them is one of the most important skills you can have. People who are good at noticing how they feel and can calm themselves down or adjust their behaviour are more likely to do well in life, have healthy relationships and manage difficulties and setbacks.’ Shahana Knight
To understand your emotions, first, try to focus on the situations that are creating stress and negative emotions in your life.
- A specific situation such as an overwhelming workload at home or at work, or a colleague who hassle you.
- Identify your thoughts or feelings during this specific situation.
Emotions (negative) are to get you to NOTICE the problem so you can make necessary changes. So your job is to LISTEN to these signals (your feelings, your body sensations), and then DECIDE on possible changes, or getting help.
Emotions and the Brain
Emotions are not consciously controlled. The part of the brain that deals with emotions are the limbic system or amygdala. This part of the brain evolved fairly early on in human history to survive. This explains why an emotional response is often quite straightforward, and very powerful: you have a fight, flight, freeze or faint reaction.
Emotions are also strongly linked to memory and experience. If something disagreeable previously happened to you, your emotional response to the same stimulus is likely to be strong.
When people deny that they are having negative feelings, those feelings can bottle up to a point that a person ends up “exploding” or acting out in a harmful way, reacting from the limbic system.
Dr Dan Siegel has a very helpful model called the Brain in the Palm of the Hand to demonstrate how the brain operates when one is ‘triggered’ and how to deal with negative emotions. He explains that allowing yourself to express and ‘name’ your fears and emotions helps you to ‘tame‘ the situation and thereby avoid reacting with the limbic system. Expressing your emotions helps you to integrate different parts of your brain and to activate with the prefrontal cortex, where lies the ‘executive’ functions.
Executive functions of the brain (frontal, prefrontal cortex) focus on controlling short-sighted, reflexive behaviours (from the limbic system) with the ability to plan, decide, with problem-solving, self-control, and acting with long-term goals in mind.
Positive time-outs are intended to prevent problematic behaviours (a reaction to a trigger) and to help children and adults calm down and gain self-control. With practice, we can all learn how to do this and exercise those new skills. It is also important for the adult to model this, in front of the children. We all do better when we feel better and Positive Time Outs helps us cool off and feel better. We can then decide what to do using our frontal cortex.
If you find your child is not exercising self-soothing skills nor able to calm him or herself down despite everything you do, there may be something else going on and you may need to try other Positive Discipline Tools.
To summarise, here are the 4 steps when dealing with unhelpful emotions:
- Validate your emotions by sharing, speaking, writing them in a journal.
- Acknowledge that you are triggered (by an event or with an overload of emotions) and your limbic system (reptilian brain) is reacting – Fight, Flight, Freeze …
- Take a Positive Time Out of your choice from a list you have ready (have at least 3 strategies – breath deeply, go out for a walk, drink a glass of water, go to the bathroom…), and once cooled down, you can respond (to an email, to a colleague, to your child).
- Practice the first 3 points as often as you can. Changing habits is a process!
And lastly and not least – taking care of yourself and your well-being is absolutely essential. If you feel constantly emotional, sensitive to small triggers, you are probably in need of a good rest or of regular ‘Time-Out’ moments. That is why denial is not helpful in the long run.
If you can’t make progress dealing with a stressful situation on your own — you’re stuck — consider asking for help such as with a coach or a therapist. He or she can help you find healthy ways to cope with the situation and find what works for you with solutions.
You can also join the next Positive Discipline workshop for parents, teachers or at the workplace to learn more and practice with a group of participants. You will LEARN, get INSPIRED, have a support group with whom you can CONNECT.
Meanwhile, stay well, keep faith and stay healthy!
Interested to know more? Any thoughts on the above? Let me know!
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I look forward to hearing from you.