Making Room for ALL the Emotions
September 1, 2020 | by Lorinne Burke of Northwest Counseling, MMFT, LCPC, NCCE, NCPC
On the morning of July 4th, when they should have been asleep like I was, my husband and son were locked in an epic struggle for the salvation of the very universe! I can’t say if they were on Destiny 2 or Halo because I don’t look too closely. I’m usually just glad that all that testosterone is cooperating. That was our bubble. I was happily asleep. The husband and son were happy that I was out cold and couldn’t tell everyone to go to bed. It felt safe and normal and a little boring.
At 2:30am, our street was filled with a fire truck, an ambulance, and flashing lights. The neighbor was having heart attack symptoms. Here's where my husband (Scoutmaster for Troop 2 and an all-around good guy) did the right thing. He drove our neighbor's wife to the ER behind her husband. He hugged her and made sure she would be alright, all of the good things that I would want him to do, all of the right behaviors to model to our son. That’s how we got exposed to Covid-19. Our neighbor tested positive at the hospital. Doing the right thing was wrong?
2020 has been a dumpster fire rolling down a hill towards a cliff with a lake of acid at the bottom. If you are tired all the time, feeling more physical pain, crying more easily, or finding yourself overreacting with anger, welcome to 2020. You are not alone. This year has been so emotionally stressful. Your body is likely experiencing physical symptoms, including joint and muscle pain, exhaustion, headaches, stomach and digestion issues. You may see this in your kids and notice emotional swings, anxiety, and mild depression symptoms.
But why would I dwell on that? Isn’t it better to see a bright side to all this?
No. It isn't better to ignore everything around us and only see the good possibilities! That's not healthy, that's denial. When you see how tough it's been in the last seven months, you can realize you are tougher because you made it through. Do not rob yourself of validation and grace! You made it through. To appreciate that, you have to look at what's happened clearly. I challenge you to write down everything that happened this year. Start with the global pandemic, the reckoning with racial injustice, financial worries, homeschooling, social isolation, lost vacations, missed opportunities, relatives, and friends you lost.
When the stress level in the general environment is this high, events get magnified, anger and depression rise. You aren't having any normal days right now. It's like we've all been swimming upstream, but now the current got dialed up to a 10. Yes, you are tired and sore, so are your kids, so is your spouse. It's harder to come up with that word, make decisions, or answer questions. Your brain is trying to process so much stressful information that you do not have your normal bandwidth.
Once you’ve realized this for yourself and your family, there are several strategies you can use to mitigate the worst of it.
Lower your expectations for productivity. It took me days longer than it usually would to write this article. I kept writing paragraphs that I couldn't stand the next day, and I had to restart the process. So here's the deal; failure is a waypoint, not an endpoint. It should be a sign that movement is happening. If your child or your spouse fails, they attempted. Encourage attempts for yourself and your family members and then keep asking them to try again. Keep validating that all of us will have to make so many starts and stops right now. Have grace on your stuttering progress, and then extend it to the people in your home. We are slogging upstream right now. We will all make better progress if we can recognize that and value the attempts.
Take care of yourself and encourage your family members to do the same. So often, when I mention this, parents tell me they don’t have time. Maybe you don’t have time for a massage and an entire day to yourself, but self-care can be the moment you sip your coffee. Self-care is when you take in a deep breath and consciously relax your shoulders down from your ears. Teach your children to use their senses for this. Ask them what they smell on the way to the car in the morning. Ask them to describe their favorite taste or tell you what they like about themselves this morning. Self-care can be small and concrete and needs to happen every day.
Everyone in your family needs social support and connection right now, so get creative. I have chronic health issues, so I’m not going to be off full quarantine until we have a vaccine. So, I have Zoom and sip nights. Water fights in the park are an excellent way for all ages to have a social activity without being too close to one another. Think of activities where you face the same direction, or it would be easy to wear a mask. Go fishing, take a walk, ride bikes, and walk the dogs. Have a game night with your family.
One of the hallmarks of resilience, the ability to make it through tough times, focuses on a reachable future. You don't have to know the exact time, but the clearer you can make the details of life beyond 2020, the more likely you'll have the strength to get you through. Include your kids in this. Plan a vacation. Ask them where they want to go and look up pictures online. When we plan for the future, we build our ability to hope.
I hope this has given you some relief that you know you’re not alone. Even if you have to quarantine at your house for a week while you wait for test results, you know it’s OK to reach out by phone and video to ask for support.
We all tested negative. And now we all know the Lone Ranger Doctrine: good deeds are better done with masks on!
Self-Care for the Time-Deprived Adult
- Wallow in any good moment. Take a deep breath and carefully catalog all the good things you think and feel.
- Reward yourself. Eat the mango, take a minute longer in the car to listen to a good song, call someone who will say good things about you.
- Eat something healthy. Pick up that carrot and chomp into it while you tell yourself, "I am worth it!"
- Sing loudly in your vehicle. Singing helps us release emotions and can decrease tension. If you're alone in your car, get loud!
- Validate yourself. Stop telling yourself you shouldn't feel, or you're just silly. You have real emotions, and they are all on high alert right now. Remind yourself that you have a right to each one of them. They don't have to make sense, be pretty, or be comfortable.
- Hideout in the bathroom. This only works if you finally have children trained to let you do your duty alone. You can only do it for 5-10 minutes, but take the 5 minutes!
- Find something to appreciate and be thankful for each day. Remember that it doesn't have to be a big thing. We naturally remember the negatives, and we have to work at anchoring the positives in our memory.
Lorinne has been a therapist for 23 years. She is married to a Scout Master and has a 12-year-old boy. She likes to whine about how all of her friends have horses while giving meaningful looks to her husband. After 16 years of marriage, he is adept at eye-rolling. Lorinne works with kids, families, custody issues, and is a consultant and trainer for other therapists.