No problem has ever been resolved through emotional upheaval.
As I mentioned in my April/May column (“Nine Coping Skills For Managing Stress”), to find our way to productive solutions, we’ll first want to deal with our feelings.
Feelings are important because they can tell us what we need to do. To deal with our feelings, we must name them, realize it’s ok to feel them and express them in a safe way. Then we can decide what to do to feel better.
It’s ok to have negative feelings. But owning our feelings rather than blaming others for them is the key to a sustainable resolution.
Using the “I feel” sentence is helpful, for example, “I feel lonely because I’m social distancing for my safety.” Remember, life is 10 percent what happens and 90 percent how we respond. No one makes us do or feel anything. We are responsible for our feelings or responses. So if we own our feelings and actions, we’ll be on our way to more reasonable outcomes.
To change or break a negative response pattern, note these few physiological facts:
• Our brain needs oxygen to think clearly.
• Negative feelings like anger and fear trigger adrenaline, shifting oxygen from our brain to our air passages to provide our muscles with the oxygen needed for flight-or-fight responses.
• Without oxygen, our brain focuses on familiar reactive, defensive response patterns rather than proactive, solution-oriented, productive outcomes.
To relearn and find helpful stopgaps to break patterns, we’ll first need to agree there’s an issue we’d like to change. Once motivated to change, we’ll face the realization that change is a challenging process. But with patience, persistence and practice, anyone committed to change can break the habit of engrained negative response patterns.
The simplest tool used to manage a stressful event is the STOP sign acronym technique: Stop, Think, Options, Plan.
If we stop our undesirable emotions before they escalate, we’ll automatically think of options and create a more reasonable plan. By stopping, we’ll breathe, calm down and reach a better plan than if we fly out of control driven by emotions.
Because we are all human, we all experience negative emotions. But it’s what we do with them that defines us. Working toward eliminating personal attacks or put-downs will enhance the quality of our relationships with ourselves and others. Learning to manage stressors also improves our physical and mental health.
Accept imperfection, practice forgiveness, and give yourself and loved ones a break.