Last week, I wrote about talking to my kids about tragedy and what that looks like in my house. It was a tough week in the news, with tough conversations at home, and just big, heavy feelings all around.
Yesterday, my 3rd grade daughter spent a good portion of her day in lockdown at school because of a threat made. She came home and told me about how other students were scared and crying. She talked about how she was scared, but didn’t cry, but instead just found herself watching everyone around her, and wondering what was happening “out there.”
When it was lifted, she found out that her favorite time of the week – afternoon chorus practice - was cancelled for the day because of the lockdown.
And then, worst of all, she came home and was grounded because of a punishment for some things that had happened the night before.
I submit to you, dear readers, the worst day that has ever happened in the history of the world, according to my daughter. (I also submit quite an eye roll from this particular mother, because - the drama, ya'll.)
She didn’t understand why her horrible day at school didn’t already count towards her punishment. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t get out of the house and play with her friends.
She had a horrible day, and all she wanted to do was feel better, pretend like none of it ever happened, or go to bed and start over.
Photo by elizabeth lies on Unsplash
And although her reasoning is a bit immature (she's only nine, let's give her a break) - I’m sure many of us have had similar feelings.
Often, clients come in to counseling and submit to me similar – though more adult-level – worst days. Stories of crisis, trauma, grief, and loss.
They submit their feelings and resume of anxiety, stress, and frustration with aspects of their life, kids, relationships, or jobs.
And often, when I tell them that the first part of counseling is to sit in those feelings and really feel them, they look at me with incredulity.
Because we have learned as a society that we have to get rid of negative feelings. We instead try to numb them, distract ourselves from them, or ignore them. Just like my daughter wanted to do.
But you guys, honestly? If you want to grow from those experiences, and not let them grow additional negative feelings – resentment, anger, discontent, or apathy – you have to sit in those feelings when they happen and feel them.
If you take the time to process your life - your response to circumstances, your choices and actions around both the things that happen to you, and the things that happen because of you – then instead of getting beating down by these things, you begin to grow in strength and character.
So I in turn submit to you - 4 things you can do when things suck:
1. Feel it.
Feel your feelings. Do you know what that looks like?
It is important to be able to separate your feelings from your thoughts.
One way to do this is to realize that feelings are in the body, and thoughts are in the mind.
All of those meanings and judgements that you attach to feelings?
Those are thoughts – those don’t even have anything to do with the feelings themselves.
So if you’ve been a feeling-stuffer your whole life, you may not even realize what areas of your body hold on to your feelings, but there are stacks of research that show that when you stuff them, you often have a physical reaction to doing so – and one that gets more severe over time, that can cause a whole list of physical ailments from years of neglecting those feelings.
Beginning some mindfulness exercises are a great way to begin to notice and feel your feelings.
(Sidenote/PSA: As a skeptic myself, please hear me when I say that I have always been the person to internally cringe or roll my eyes when someone mentions mindfulness.
Mindfulness has always been such a woo-woo concept to me, comparable to horoscopes, psychics, and “the universe.” I challenge you – as I challenged myself – to grab a “beginners” mindfulness book, or commit to trying out some daily meditation exercises and see how much of a difference it can make.
Just know that it will feel incredibly strange and silly for awhile, but over time and with practice, it can be hugely beneficial in multitudes of ways.)
2. Lean on your support.
Who are these people? Who are the people that you can talk to when all of the things are hard?
These are not the people that are going to try to problem solve for you, or that are going to go start street fights with anyone who does you wrong. These are not the people that think you can do no wrong.
These are the people that, if you have one, they will hold you accountable for your part of the mess, will love you through it, but will still make sure that you get up and put on pants.
Who are the truth-tellers in your life?
Now, why aren’t you talking to them about this?
3. Talk about it.
Talk about whatever is going on.
If you’re struggling with going out in public because we of all of the violence we are seeing in our society, say that out loud.
If your kids are going through something and you kind of just want to ship them across the world and let someone else deal with it, tell someone.
If your spouse should probably get shipped right along with them, someone should know that you are having these feelings. Someone other than your spouse.
Even if there is something going on with you and you can’t quite name it yet, you have to say something in order to feel better.
Authenticity goes a long way in healing, no matter what the issue is. Pretending as though everything is fine and perfect, when inside your life feels as though it’s falling apart can be detrimental to your mental (and physical, as I discussed above!) health.
You don’t have to have the answers before you talk about it. But you don’t get the answers unless you do.
4. Self-care, self-care, self-care!!
You knew it was coming, because it’s my favorite topic.
Even as you feel your feelings, and even as you talk to your friends, and even as you get up the nerve to talk about really difficult things – you have to take care of yourself.
You don’t have to spend a dime on self-care. You can walk (or even just stand) outside in the sunshine, call a family member, say “no” to something you know you need to, get a full night of sleep, listen to music, read a book, create something, color….
The list goes on.
Anything that you do that makes you feel rested and recharged afterwards – is self-care. Put yourself in situations where you feel loved, supported, and known.
Sometimes things suck, you guys.
If you have trouble getting through it, can’t identify the truth-tellers in your life, or just need to figure out how to feel your feelings – reach out.
It won’t immediately be perfect – but if you deal with it now, you flex those muscles and strengthen them for the next time something happens.
Brooke Williams, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor serving South Carolina. She provides relationship and identity counseling online for busy moms and professionals. You can read more about her here.