Health & Well-Being: Blogging Through COVID Together — Feelings
April 20, 2020
Last week we introduced this blog as a way of sharing information, stories and practices to promote and support well-being in this crazy unprecedented time of Covid-19. As this pandemic is a time to model and practice courage we are going to dive right in and start with feelings. Let’s face it, feelings are a huge part of life these days whether you want them to be or not. Since I suspect I am not the only one on a bit of a rollercoaster right now I figured this would be a good place to start.
In his book, “Permission to Feel” Dr. Marc Brackett using decades of research to point out how essential it is to pay attention to and acknowledge the influence of feelings. Our feelings impact how we see and think about the world and how we behave and interact in it. How we manage and regulate our feelings has an impact on our health, happiness and success. If you are interested in learning more have a listen to the great podcast that Dr Brackett just did with another one of my favourite authors, Dr. Brene Brown here: Unlocking Us Podcast.
For now, let’s move to the practical. Here are some things to consider this week:
1. What were you taught about feelings growing up? Were you taught, as many people were, to suck it up and get on with it? Were you taught that some feelings were okay, and some weren’t? Maybe the rules around feelings were based on gender? Maybe they were explicit or maybe just implied.
This is not an exercise in judgement, but it is worth the self-reflection or a discussion with a trusted friend or partner because if we are aware of these messages, we can notice them when they come up with compassion. Then we can remind ourselves that we know differently now and update our response. We can teach our children that all feelings are okay and how to recognize and manage them.
2. Feelings always start in the body. Pay attention to where you experience feelings in your body and teach your children to notice this too. The physiological response to feelings is similar for everyone in that our nervous systems have similar mechanisms. In response to emotion our heart rate increases, our muscles tense up, our bodies prepare to respond.
The first task if we want to learn how to and practice regulating and managing emotions is to notice them. That’s all you have to do, just notice. You don’t have to do anything with it or even decide which emotion it is right away. Just notice and be curious about it. Ask your children where they feel their feelings in their bodies. Teach them that these are clues to pay attention to. Help them become what Dr. Brackett calls emotion scientists.
3. Increase your feelings vocabulary. Most people when asked to describe feelings will list a few of the basic feelings, happy, sad, mad, scared but we have a much wider experience than these and if we use and teach a wider range of feeling words we can communicate and support each other much better.
We want our children to be able to understand that frustration is different than anger and that anger is different from rage! That way we can model and teach that learning is frustrating sometimes when we are not getting a new concept right away and that it is okay to pause, notice the frustration and go back in and try again. We also want them to notice that if they are feeling anger that is different and they should probably stop for a moment and be curious about what is going on for them because it is probably not just a difficult math problem.
Right now, we really want our teenagers to be able to talk about and recognize disappointment because even though it is a really tough emotion it is very different than angry and when we can label it accurately, we can deal with it much better.
So, practice and teach lots of different feeling words. How many words can your family come up with that mean scared, angry, happy. Can you put them on a continuum? Have a look at Dr Brackett’s mood meter where he puts feelings and energy levels on a graph so people can chart where they are. Mood Meter
4. Label and talk about your own feelings with your children. Let them know it is something that is okay to talk about and that we are all a work in progress. Here is another podcast from our friends at BC Children’s Hospital and Kelty Mental Health you may want to check out where I tell a story about that with my son. Where You Are Podcast on Social Emotional Learning.
Well that is a lot for one week. Remember the most important part is just noticing and being curious. Feelings are data, they are not in charge of our behaviour or an excuse for it, but we will struggle if we don’t pay attention to and acknowledge this important data. Next week we will talk about how to regulate and manage emotions. Stay tuned!
Brackett, M. (2019). Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive. New York: Macmillan Publishers.