My four-year old stood squarely before me, clenched jaw, furrowed eye brows, large brown eyes locked in my gaze, fists tense as she stomps her tiny foot like a lead weight determinedly on the ground … “I WANT to. Watch. Cinderella!”
Despite having navigated out of similar sticky situations in the past without it escalating into chaos before bedtime, I find myself getting even more stuck and confronted by the depth and strength of her emotions. “I totally get it, you’re angry…” I say. “I am NOT angry MAMA, I’m sad!” she says. Her expression seemingly at odds with her labelled emotion.
The reality was, we were both tired. And she was all those feelings. Sadness that we had to go to bed after such a filled day of activities. Angry at me because I didn’t allow her to do what she wanted, to watch her favourite movie. She was exhausted and overwhelmed by the intensity of emotions of the day albeit they were mostly exciting and happy.
Most of us have been in the company of our emotions more so than ever this year that comes with experiences of change, uncertainty, unpredictability and loss. It can be completely uncomfortable to have to sit with our emotions especially when we are confined in the real life, stay-at-home orders of this pandemic.
Sometimes we cope with the weight of emotions by finding a silver lining, by focusing on gratitude or by paying it forward. Other times we have pushed through busy and exhausted with the multitude of demands on the modern family. And there are times we are just really struggling to navigate out of the “stuckness” of worry and stress. Times when there are way too many regrets and ‘shoulds’ in our train of thinking.
Those moments are also all opportunities when we can learn to accept that one of the best things we can do is be aware of how we’re feeling. We can make some space for those emotions to breathe and give it some of our attention. In doing so, we may be able to muster some strength and courage to learn from them, so we can empower our minds. But, these emotions, they also come, and they go.
Steps to manage anxiety, stress, sadness and frustrations.
Recognise when you are out of balance.
When we are calm and alert, in the green zone, we can access the thinking parts of our brain that helps us plan, problem solve and make decisions.
When our brain is triggered into high alert by anger, anxiety, frustrations or fear, we can head into the red zone. We focus on our needs for safety or survival – fighting (or becoming defensive), fleeing (avoiding), or freezing (physically or mentally). We may notice rapid breathing and increased heart rate. In the red zone, the reactive brain is working perfectly but the thinking brain is much less active.
When you become more aware of your experience you can use tools to get back into the green zone and achieve better balance within yourself.
Strengthen tools that help calm the mind and body.
One of the most helpful things to do when you are faced with overwhelm and chaos is to accept that at these moments of emotional flooding, working things out using words or logic are not the most effective tools. Instead, you can use these opportunities to practice the strategies that are helpful, so you can widen your capacity to handle stress, sadness or frustrations without it triggering the red zone. Helpful tools may include deep breathing exercises, tuning into the senses by listening to music, moving the body to regain balance or reaching out and seeking help.
Notice the reactions that have been helpful and unhelpful when you are in the red zone
Reflect on the experience.
When we are in the green zone, we can harness our capacities to be flexible and stable. You can argue with ideas that are not helpful, healthy or true and make better decisions. You don’t have to believe all your thoughts and can challenge them to strengthen the logical part of the brain.
To see what is going on in the inside, Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson created the acronym ‘SIFT’ to help us remember how we can pay attention to the information inside ourselves and bring it into awareness. What Sensations do I notice in my body? What Images, memories come to mind? What Feeling would I use to describe this experience? What Thoughts arise?
Keep a copy of our Calming Chaos Toolkit
Practical steps to manage anxiety, stress, sadness and frustrations.