Recommended Reading: Tina Payne Bryson
Tina Payne Bryson is a well-known parenting expert and co-author of the book, The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. She maintains a blog at http://tinabryson.com/. Bryson’s writing is straightforward, approachable, and jargon-free. While Bryson mainly writes about children, I have found that many of her articles are also helpful for adults. Her posts about feelings are particularly relevant for adults who struggle with how to work with their own emotions. Children tend to have a much different relationship with their feelings than adults do; children generally allow themselves to express their emotions more freely, and can move more fluidly through different – sometimes even contradictory – emotions. But much like adults, kids can sometimes get overwhelmed by their feelings. I particularly like Bryson’s article about dealing with tantrums. While we may not like to refer to them as tantrums, many of us adults can recall at least a few memories where it felt like we lost complete control over our emotions and could not be soothed. Bryson details seven ways to deal with a tantrum in her article; I’ll list each of her suggestions, along with ways to tailor her advice to adults:
- Pay attention to triggers. Notice if there are particular events that have the potential to trigger big emotions for you. Is it being around your family? At home alone at night? When your partner comes home late from work? Being able to identify your triggers can help you feel more prepared in the future.
- Connect emotionally. When we feel overwhelmed by our emotions, many of us have the tendency to jump immediately into problem-solving mode. We may try to figure out exactly what caused the emotion, or try to devise a specific way to get rid of the emotion. You might instead want to try connecting with your emotions in that moment. What is it that you are really feeling? Try to describe the feeling in as much detail as possible. You can also try reading my article “’What Am I Feeling Right Now?’ A Different Way To Answer This Question” if identifying your feelings is something that is tricky for you. Beyond just identifying the feeling, see if you can sit with it for a few moments without having any sort of agenda. Imagine that you are keeping the feeling company. Focus on simply breathing and staying present.
- Set boundaries. Many times when we experience strong emotions, we feel the desire to bury the emotions in drinking, eating, shopping, smoking, sex, or other distracting behaviors. It may be very difficult to try to stop turning to these behaviors without the help of a therapist, but trying to keep a boundary in mind as a goal can be helpful in these moments. You may want to try some self-talk here, perhaps by saying something like, “I know I’ve just had an awful day today, but I’m not going to smoke a cigarette. I’m going to try to soothe myself in a different way.”
- Use playfulness. See if there is any way to find humor or silliness in the situation. This can be tough when you’re feeling overwhelmed, but sometimes letting go of your adult side and doing something very childlike and playful can be immensely helpful.
- Be flexible. Don’t try to set rigid expectations and guidelines for yourself. Allow for the fact that sometimes you will do a better job than others at being with your emotions.
- Remain calm. Even if you’re feeling big feelings, you can try to keep yourself grounded by taking deep breaths, closing your eyes, and keeping both feet on the ground. It won’t be helpful to try to force yourself to get rid of the emotions, but you can still get to a place where you can create a bit of space around the emotions.
- Always repair. After the feelings have passed, take some time to notice any effects your emotions may have had on yourself and others. You may have lashed out at a friend or spouse, acted rudely at work, or treated yourself poorly. See if you can repair your relationships with others and with yourself. Do something that feels soothing and rewarding. Many people skip this step because of their relief that the emotion is finally gone, but taking the time to settle back in to yourself and your relationships will help you the next time you’re experiencing overwhelming emotions.
Interested in working with your big feelings? Call (415) 658-5738 or visit my Appointments page to schedule a consultation.