26 March 2014

Learning to Recognize And Manage Our Emotions

After The Man returned from deployment we were very interested in taking advantage of opportunities to help make that transition time, known in military jargon as "Reintegration" as smooth as possible. A lot can go wrong in even the most loving families when a family member has been in a war zone, the family has been separated for a year and with the emotional and physical wear and tear that all those things bring.

One of the things that has been a real focus of our transition training has been to learn to recognize how we feel, identify why and to learn how to get ourselves back to a calm "green" zone if we are feeling stressed or anxious.

One of our assignments was to sit down every night as a family and identify by circling from a list of emotions all the feelings we experienced throughout the day. Each individual had their own list. We learned that emotions are not bad. Sometimes we identify emotions as things we should not be feeling, for example, being mad, scared or frustrated are bad things. Emotions are really just identifiers to help us see there is an issue that needs to be addressed or to recognize that something is good and makes us happy.

The thing that can be problematic is our actions. Trouble can happen when we don't acknowledge our emotions, or we act based on our emotions without thinking through them or trying to positively resolve them. A positive reaction to our emotions would be to recognize and celebrate the happy times in our lives. Positive reactions to unhappy emotions would be to try to understand what we are feeling and then work towards getting to a calm place and resolving our feelings. A bad way to act out on our feelings would be to do something destructive like break our favorite toy, blow up at someone, or make much worse decisions that damages ourselves, our homes or our lives.

Once we started more easily identifying moments when we were scared, silly, happy, mad, frustrated or worried we started talking more about what brought on those emotions and how we worked through the difficult ones. We also learned that in every day we can have many different experiences with our emotions, a broad range of feelings in the same day. We shouldn't just focus on the negative ones as representative of our lives even in hard times. We also can't bury our negative emotions and only acknowledge our positive emotions. Then we do not resolve problems, fears and challenges.

We learned to see and appreciate more the good things in life. We also learned to work through and resolve difficult feelings. We can take a walk, do something that will make us laugh, write about our feelings, do deep breathing exercises, meditate, talk it through with someone or just take a break and do something else for a while until we feel more calm.

I am realizing what a gift it is to children to be able to recognize and act on their feelings. I have seen The Bug really begin to be able to identify her feelings and talk about them more. She has made some impressive progress. How The Man and I wish we'd learned this when we were quite young. No one really talked about these things when we were kids. More often than not people don't learn this until adulthood, if ever. Many adults continue to run amok with their emotions, unable to identify what's happening, why they're acting as they are and what the real story is about what's going on with them. To have a handle on that as a kid is a godsend and I realize it might be the most important thing we can teach our children.

But we can't teach what we don't know and live. So we have to learn it all first. It's pretty interesting what you learn when you start writing down all your feelings every day. For instance, you start to take a closer look at your days when you realize you are circling "Tired" every day. You feel grateful on hard days when you are able to still circle "Happy" or "Silly" and remember the bright spots in your life. You also learn to see where you may overreact to things that really aren't that important. Learning or being reminded to stop and figure out why you're feeling what you're feeling instead of taking it out on every person who comes in contact with you is a great thing. There are a lot of adults who just bash around letting their emotions rain on everyone's parade.

I am so glad that The Man and I are improving our skills in this area and that we have the chance to arm The Bug with these skills so early in her life. Working on emotional management as a family helps us all be more supportive of each other, be more tolerant of other's emotions and allows us all to work through our own emotions with grace, love and acceptance. It's great to be able to recognize another's stress and to be able to remind them how to get back to the calm "green" zone. Knowing that I know how to help The Bug or The Man manage stressful situations through exercises and activities we've learned together is such a comfort. Seeing them be able to use their skills on their own is even more comforting.

I would recommend this process to every individual and family. It can relieve stress in the family and home and for each person individually. It's a great way to help build stronger relationships too. Parents can worry about their children less when they know the kids are armed with an arsenal of tools to help them see the good in life and to get them through difficult experiences and hard times. Life is just plain easier on us when we are able to manage our emotions, appreciate all the good things in our lives and learn how to resolve things that are difficult.

image by kalanicut

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