How to Practice Self-Care While Riding the Waves of Difficult Feelings

Difficult feelings

How to Practice Self-Care While Riding the Waves of Difficult Feelings

As human beings, we are naturally looking for warmth, safety, and comfort.  However, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we are experiencing abrupt disruptions that offer little comfort and safety for many.  Schedules are shifting, resources are unstable, and many are experiencing daily waves of difficult feelings.  Letting our discomfort exist and permeate our whole being is one of the greatest self-care practices we can embark on.  Practicing healthy acceptance of our feelings supports our individual journeys and will inevitably spill over into parenting journeys as well.

Difficult Feelings are Normal

Many of us are struggling in our own way, to adapt to our current social climate.  Whether it is loneliness, uncertainty, or added stress from working at home while parenting, difficult feelings are everywhere.  This is a normal response to change and stress!  We live in a society that idolizes and sells happiness, strength, and perfection.  These traits can bring positivity into our lives, but we are missing the mark if positivity is our only goal.  We cannot control or avoid the difficult experiences and feelings that come with life.  Let’s explore some of the benefits of embracing and creating space for our challenges. 

Why would I embrace difficult feelings?

From the time we are young, we are subtly taught that discomfort is a feeling to be avoided.  We hear and use common phrases such as, “you’ll be fine,” or “your situation is not that bad.”  One of the messages these phrases sends us is that sadness and pain are to be escaped from.  It is normal to want to move away from difficult feelings.  However, we can become distanced from our true emotions before they have a chance to teach us about ourselves.

Though we might not notice, we experience our emotions as waves, or bell curves.  The emotion presents itself,  gradually increasing in intensity, peaking, and then gradually declining, leaving us at our typical baseline.  The problem is, that we may be well-rehearsed at avoiding the peaks of our emotions.  The more that we avoid, the scarier the peaks become.  Thanks to David H. Barlow’s research and other mental health professionals, we can learn to experience our feelings fully.  With time, patience, and practice, the intensities and peaks of our emotions decrease. While we become better at feeling, this self-care practice also teaches us to become more in tune with ourselves.  This can teach us to show up authentically and understand our needs more. 

Coping Skills Versus Distractions

Coping skills are incredibly helpful tools that allow us to soothe ourselves and recover from difficult feelings.  If you would like to learn specific coping skills, check out another North Shore Family Services article here. The key to using coping skills is to use them while emotions are peaking, or after the peak has passed. I can see in my own life, how I have mistaken coping skills for distractions.  As soon as I felt an intense feeling appear, I would jump to a coping skill to avoid the peak.  My intentions were pure, but I was missing the opportunity to truly practice self-care.  I am now intentional, at riding the full experience of my emotions, positive or negative.  Some emotions might feel too threatening, and unsafe.  I encourage you to find a therapist, if you would like support in this self-care practice.

Using Coping Skills Effectively

As we collectively experience navigating COVID-19, I encourage you to consider a mindfulness approach to experiencing your emotions.  First, become aware of your internal experience.  Pay attention to the rise, the peak, and the fall of your feelings.  Use coping skills to navigate the peak, and be mindful that the skills support your experience, not distract from it.  Once we build awareness, we can then work toward accepting our experiences.  Mindfulness and coping skills will help support that practice, as our inclination may be to reject and avoid our reality.

Lastly, we can take action. Maybe there is a change we can make within ourselves or a relationship dynamic that needs to be addressed.  When we avoid full emotional experiences, we miss the opportunity to learn how we truly feel about our external experiences.  You are capable of growing and thriving, and it starts with the willingness to ride the waves of your emotions.

If you would like guidance and support on your personal or parenting journey, reach out to North Shore Family Services. We are happy to help you and your family reach your goals.

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