How to Handle Stress When Life Doesn’t Make Sense
The Gunter house has been a little crazy in the last few weeks. When homeschooling started for my oldest child, my youngest had one molar that was just breaking through with the other molar just about there. It has been a battle of wills between the boys and me on what needs to be done and what they want to do. Naps have been few and far between, the tears have been flowing, and the stress is high. Anyone else feeling this way?
When Life Doesn't Make Sense
As parents, our stress might look a little different than our kids. There’s this uncomfortable “I feel like I’m forgetting to do something” feeling while adjusting to cleared schedules. There is an underlying worry about finances, “We are good now, but how long will this last?” Or a concern about groceries because we know there isn’t a true shortage of food, but everyone is buying it up before we can get to it.
And then there are the “what ifs”: What if someone I love comes down with COVID-19? What if it’s me? What if it’s one of my kids? What if I go stir crazy and adopt all the dogs sitting in animal shelters--how will I feed them?! So many unknowns lurking in the back of our minds.
How We Can Help Our Children Handle Stress
One day in the middle of the pandemic, my oldest, Jackson, reminded me that he’s feeling the stress, too. It was something small to me, something I could easily brush off, but it was big to him. We were taking a break between working on math and moving on to science, and he had earned some screen time and was playing Minecraft. He created a new world and accidentally set it on survival instead of creative mode. Here came the tears. He thought he had control over something, and he didn’t. He thought he made an irreversible mistake, and it was eating into those few precious minutes he worked so hard to earn on his iPad. It was a simple mistake that was easily resolved, but it created a space for us to talk about feelings.
The conversation went like this:
Me: “Buddy, when something goes wrong, you just need to ask me for help. You don’t have to cry and get upset…but if you need to cry that’s ok, too. You feel what you need to feel, and I’ll be right here with you.”
Jackson: “I just want to feel my feelings” (I think he’s heard me tell him to feel his feelings a few too many times).
Me: “That’s fine, you just let me know if you need me.”
Jackson: “Ok, thank you, mommy.” A few minutes passed, and he said, “My feelings aren’t big anymore!”
Not All Questions Can Be Answered
This is a season of unanswered questions. We don’t have all the answers to our own questions, much less our children’s, and that can make this entire situation even harder. Kids are great at asking outlandish questions under normal circumstances, but I’m noticing, in my own home, that my son is asking more intentional and relevant questions.
“When can I stay the night at Gigi’s?” “Why can’t I go to the park?” “Ok, when can I go to the park again?” “Why can’t I see my friends?” “Why are people wearing masks?”
Some of these questions have easy answers. Some are more complex. Some I can’t answer. That’s hard. It’s hard for me to not know the answer. It’s hard for me to not be able to provide a solid answer to my child who thinks I am the wealth of all knowledge in the entire world. It’s hard. It’s stressful! I’m feeling it, and he is, too. Why?
These why questions are wrapped up in a ball of stress. Stress has no age limit and neither do big emotions. Sometimes, like now, our stress is high, and it makes our feelings get really big. And we can find it overwhelming and have a hard time seeing past it, which is called flooding.
Healthy Ways to Handle Stress
When we flood with emotion, it makes it hard to see past our feelings and think clearly, making it even harder to find a resolution. Typically, when you flood, you feel that emotion rising inside, but sometimes, it’s sudden. If you feel that emotion “getting big,” take a few deep breaths. For some great deep breathing exercises, check out How to Cope With Anxiety and Fear During the Pandemic.
Once you gather yourself, whether you are able to catch yourself before the flood or after, ask yourself the following questions:
Another great practice is to find positive ways to engage each of your five senses, which help combat and “soothe” those negative emotions. Here are some ways you can involve your five senses:
- What event triggered my emotion?
- What interpretations or assumptions am I making about the event?
- Do my emotions and their intensity match the facts of the situation? Or does it just match my assumptions about the situation?
By engaging the senses in a positive way, you help relieve and calm the negative emotions, centering yourself and clearing your mind so that you can process what you are feeling.
Each of these coping skills and exercises are great for all ages. Ryan Leak spoke about how we can intentionally use this time to build a stronger connection to our loved ones. What better way to use a pandemic than to teach our children and teenagers and ourselves how to regulate emotions?
- For your vision, you could go for a walk; even in a world of social distancing, we can still go outside and move.
- For hearing, you could listen to your favorite band or favorite song.
- For touch, you could take a hot bath or put on your softest clothes.
- For taste, you could choose to eat a bowl of ice cream—a nice small treat for yourself.
- For smell, it could be as simple as smelling some flowers or lighting a candle you love.
Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things, there is no law.”
Exercising these emotional regulation skills will help us shift the posture of our hearts from anxiety, worry, and anger to a posture of peace, patience, kindness, and gentleness and will help us develop self-control. How will you regulate your emotions this week?
Join us this weekend as we continue our How to Hit a Curveball series. This series is focused on navigating today’s upturned world and each curveball thrown our way. Join us this Friday, at 7:00 PM, or Sunday, at 9:30 and 11:15 AM, online at Chase Oaks Live.