Back to School 5 Week Sanity Challenge: Week 3
School has started in Houston
It is official, school has started in the greater Houston area. We are all doing this thing one way or another. Hopefully, school is going better than expected and maybe even smoothly. No matter how well it’s going, my assumption is that it’s still a lot to manage kids doing at home learning, taking care of other children, work, and your home. There is also uncertainty about the future, for example, what it will look like for kids to return in person and for some of you, when will they return to in person learning.
From getting by to living
It is overwhelming when we have a lot to manage and we don’t have any choice about it. Sometimes it feels like the only thing we can do is put our head down and put one foot in front of the other. While this does help us get by, we often want more than just getting by. We want to live and enjoy our life. This is where a little self-compassion can go a long way.
How self-compassion can help
In addition to just getting through the days, how we are really feeling on the inside can slip out here and there. Have you ever gotten short with your partner or snapped at your kids and that is when you realized how stressed and overwhelmed you have been feeling? This happens to all of us. Most of us drastically underestimate how stressful things really are and how much of an impact stress is having on us. When we feel overwhelmed or get short with someone we love, many of us turn on ourselves. Saying things to ourselves such as, “If you were a better parent you would not be reacting so harshly.” “If you would just try harder or take better care of yourself you would not be struggling so much and feel so underwater.” What if we could step back and notice, of course we feel like we are drowning? There is a lot going on! What if our inner voice said something more like, “I am feeling so overwhelmed. Of course, because there is so much uncertainty. I am trying to do so much.” What if we could give ourselves a little grace and understanding when we need it the most versus kicking ourselves when we are down?
Lean in with compassion
There are small ways we can lean in and be with our experience. R.A.I.N. is a practice expanded by Tara Brach in her book Radical Compassion. We can journal the R.A.I.N. practice and also use R.A.I.N. in moments of overwhelm.
Recognize * Accept * Investigate * Nurture
First, we look in and ask ourselves what are we feeling. Research says that simply labeling feelings begins to calm our nervous system. “I feel overwhelmed, anxious, angry, frustrated, etc.”
Can I accept this is how I feel, even if I do not want to feel this way? Maybe I feel bad for feeling this way or like I should feel something else. It might sound something like, “Yes, I feel angry, so angry.” Through gritted teeth, “Can it be ok for me to feel angry in this moment?” If the answer is a resounding “NO!” this is a great topic to journal. What are all the internal messages that say, “No, it is not ok for me to feel this way.” Where did I first hear this message? Does this message of “No” still fit for me today? Is there anything I am afraid of in feeling angry, sad, overwhelmed, etc.? What am I worried might happen if I let myself feel this big emotion in this moment?
What does this emotion feel like in my body? Connecting your thoughts to how they are landing in your body is also calming to our nervous system. We are stepping out of our racing thoughts and tuning into our body to notice what overwhelmed, sad, or anxious feels like in our body. Sometimes it is easy to answer what an emotion feels like in our body. If it is not obvious however, you can close your eyes and check in with your shoulders, chest, and stomach. These are areas in our body where we often carry big emotions. Is my jaw tense? Are my shoulders raised and tight? Am I clenching anywhere?
Nurture is where we can treat ourselves as we would a friend and give ourselves compassion in our struggle. What am I needing in this moment of sadness, anger, or overwhelm? Maybe I need to hear, “It is completely understandable and reasonable that you are upset.” Maybe I need to be seen for how hard I am trying. “I see you are trying so hard and doing so much. It is a lot what you are doing.” Maybe I need to hear that I am a good parent despite my fears. “You are a good Mom or Dad. Your kids are so lucky to have you. They would not want anyone else.” You might imagine a good friend or a grandparent saying these kind things to you. If there is not a person in your life past or present you could imagine being so kind, it could be your older wiser self who says these kind things to you. If any of these messages are difficult to take in, you could also explore through journaling. What makes these messages difficult to take in? What would it feel like if I could take these kind messages in?
You are not alone
In moments of struggle, we all need to know we are not alone. We need reassurance and kindness. For most of us, this is not our first instinct. We actually need to practice compassion in order to change or initial response of being hard on ourselves in moments of struggle. With practice, we can begin to treat ourselves with more kindness and compassion especially in moments of struggle.
I hope this was helpful! I look forward to connecting with you again next week.
Michelle Puster M.Ed., LPC
Certified Emotionally Focused Therapist
Certified Clinical Trauma Professional
Katy Couples & Wellness Counseling
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