After three weeks of confinement, it becomes difficult not to feel trapped, weary, jumpy, or fidgety. We need to find emotional distancing in times of social distancing.
I’ve been positively surprised how confinement shifted my habits for the better. I had time in the morning to meditate and practice Tai Chi; I walked with the kids during their morning breaks; I coached remotely, and spent more time with the children at the end of the day. I felt energized, and the kids were happy until this third week.
When We Start Feeling the Limits
It was fun at the beginning, a bit like a vacation when you create new habits in a new surrounding. Still, the honeymoon period starts to recede, and cracks begin to emerge. Children become cranky; the husband with barely any work begins to feel trapped like a caged lion; I need more space to sanitize my emotions while supporting the children, the husband, my book launch, coaching, and just being human in an extraordinary situation.
Every system tends to lean towards the positive. We see on social media all the fabulous inspiration the lockdown created: like it is what we need to change our bad habits, to connect more to people, to reduce consumption. It invites us to see the positive. And it works. But we are not all made of positive only. There is the dark, the challenge, the blues, the down.
I think that it is time, at least for my family and me, and I believe for others too, to face the limits. Cheering to be positive can be remote from what we feel right now. Facing the limits, sitting with the discomfort is relieving pressure and supporting the spring towards what we can dream about for our new future.
Sit In the Fire of Emotions
In relationships, we tend to compete or jump to solutions when facing challenges. Both processes skip the part where we sit in the fire, or discomfort of emotions. When I feel exhausted, worried, and anxious at the end of the day, I can’t step into compassion; I try to fix things so that I can be in my bed the soonest. What I need is space (and time) to face my emotions, explore them, and listen to their wisdom. What is exhaustion telling me? Maybe I do too much, or I worry too much and don’t rest properly. What does anxious is telling me? Perhaps I need more information, I’m worried about an unknown, or I need to feel safe.
We have a natural tendency to skip the felt part of an emotion or an experience. Either we rationalize right away, or we repress it. But its message, its energy lingers internally and pushes us to act (or lash) out. So let’s step back and sit in the fire. It is recommended by Buddhists too: don’t build a story, do not attach to the emotion, and create drama: sit in it the sensation, and learn from it.
Create Emotional Space
First, ask yourself, “What is the most challenging thing for me today (either working from home or taking care of the kids or both)? Describe what is, without judgment. Just what is. Then normalize it as being entirely acceptable: you are fed up by your demanding son; it is okay. You can’t take anymore how your husband snorts; it is okay. You are sick and tired with your colleague, asking you the same question over and over; it is okay. You are ready to throw your computer through the window because of all the technical problems; it is okay. It is normal to feel like you feel.
Name the Emotion
Now that you’ve described your challenge try to name the emotion. Is it anger, fear, sadness, or joy? I refer to the main four, but they can be felt in a variety of nuances. Like anger can be frustration, being jumpy or snappy; fear can be feeling weary, tense, scared, afraid; sadness can be blue, down, tired; joy can be happy, enthusiastic.
Each emotion has a different type of sensation: joy is often warm and radiating, coming from the heart or the guts. Sadness is cold, empty, leaving you frozen, not moving. Fear is draining the blood from the extremities, creating a sensation of cold and pale in the face. Anger is directing heat in the head, feeling hot and ready to burst.
Express and Take Care of the Need of the Emotion
Each emotion presents a specific message:
- Joy: what is going well now?
- Sad: what do you miss? What is lacking?
- Fear: what is at risk?
- Anger: what is not respected? What is transgressed?
Once you’ve recognized the emotion, ask yourself the question they carry. It can relieve the pain or pressure you feel right away. When I hear my tone of voice raising and talking with a stern voice, starting to be mad, I stop and ask myself, “what limit or element is not respected?” Often, I notice that I carried too much and I feel no one is respecting my needs in return. But what did I do to have them be recognized? If I decide to deny my limits to care for others, it is mostly my responsibility. It is also me who can change it. When I’m aware of this, I can express an explicit request linked to the need the emotion told me.
Here are the need each emotion invite you to satisfy:
- Joy: need to share the joy,
- Sad: need to console, to take the time to find new meaning with what is lacking,
- Fear: need to be safe, to collect information to reduce the unknown,
- Anger: need to be respected.
Create a Safe Space
It is normal to feel many emotions right now. It is also reasonable to be willing to do it all and take care of everyone. The only way to do so is to create a safe space for you and your family. A safe space is where you don’t try to compete for a challenge (mine is more important than yours) nor trying to find solutions to what people are facing. Just be present to what you or others feel. Ventilate, allow space to unload the burden of the situation, of what is not okay. Name the emotion, find out the message, and connect to what you need in that instance. Then do it with the people you care about.
For some, it is difficult to escape the narrow space of an apartment. So, find a place where you can sit alone without being disturbed until you’ve collected your balance after sitting in the fire of emotions. Once you feel relieved, you can start doing the same with your children. Maybe you can go for a walk and have a chat with a friend; you can watch a video about dealing with emotions, listen to meditation, run. Anything that will help you feel, name, and express your feelings will help you, and you will be able to dream about your work, your family, the society, the planet.
You can find more ways to manage emotions and frustration in my new book Raise a Human Being, Not A Consumer. The New Challenges of Parenting. It is available on Amazon. In this time of confinement, I’ve lowered the price to make it more accessible.