Cultivating Emotional Resilience

No one told me how relentless parenting would be. You would think I would have somehow known this, but I’m convinced it’s the best-kept secret of all time. I really underestimated how much parenting would test me (I read somewhere that your brain physically and functionally changes as much as a teenager going through puberty when you become a mom). It’s certainly been among the steepest learning curves of my life.

Don’t get me wrong; there are wonderful moments, fun moments, silly moments, and heart-busting-at-the-seam moments. But, there are also moments of overwhelm. Overwhelm that I’m failing at EVERYTHING. Being a mom, a coach, a wife, a friend, a human, and the list goes on. As soon as this overwhelm sets in, I feel that familiar racing heart, that surge of heat, that worry that I can’t handle it all, the fear that my needs and values won’t be met and I’ll be trapped. It can feel like a storm surge. So, I’ve been using this as an opportunity to work on emotional resilience, agility, and flexibility, and I’ve been keeping it simple because simple is all I can do right now. If you’ve had moments like me and want to experiment with re-training your brain in the face of overwhelm, stress, or anxiety feel free to give it a try. It’s an adaptation of an exercise by psychologist Dr. Elisha Goldstein. It goes like this:

  1. Slow Down. Literally. For example, while my girls are eating I often run around to change the laundry, clean the counters, and pick up all the crap on the floor. The mind often follows the body, if we’re physically racing around our thoughts start to follow suit. Physically slowing down, even just a little, sends the signal to our brain that we’re safe.

  2. Drop into your body. Is your jaw clenched? Are your shoulders touching your ears? Where can you soften, let go, or adjust? I often drop my shoulders and do a stretch that opens up my chest because it can become so constricted in an overwhelmed state. Again, when you drop into your body, your mind follows suit.

  3. Be mindful of your task at hand. If I’m feeding my girls, I come back to being present in that. Presence and awareness allows me to discern whether or not it makes sense in that moment to “fit in” another chore or two while they’re eating.

This simple exercise won’t necessarily eliminate overwhelm, stress, or anxiety. But that’s not the point. The idea is to work with these challenging feelings in a way that will cumulatively lead to more emotional resilience, agility, and flexibility. I still feel overwhelmed, but not as often and I understand what's happening a bit better so that it's not so consuming. Happy practicing!

What Do You Do With Your Beach Ball?

Pretend you’re at a pool party and for some magical reason all your anxious thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations are a beach ball. And you’re not the only one with a beach ball; there was a huge sale at Walmart so we all have one.

Now, what do you do with your beach ball when it feels troublesome? Do you bring it right up to your face and analyze the heck out of it? What do you notice when you bring it up close to your face? Probably that it’s pretty tough to see anything else and engage in this glorious pool party – we end up missing out on the hot dogs, swimming, games, and oh so much more. Or do you try to avoid the beach ball by pushing it away under water? How does that go? I don't know about you, but usually that beach ball comes flying up out of the water and hits me square in the face. And then I’m left tired from all the energy I just spent trying to defy the laws of physics to push that beach ball underwater. 

My personal preference has always been to analyze the beach ball, but I’m no stranger to trying to push the beach ball underwater too.  As you’re reading this, you may be waking up to your personal beach ball today. You also may be thinking “Okay, well what the heck do I do with this beach ball then?” To which I’d say: "There’s not much to do; it’s just a beach ball!" I know, frustratingly simple, but by no means easy!

Want to hear more about the beach ball and anxiety metaphor? Check out Episode #144 of the Not Another Anxiety Show podcast in iTunes!