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Columns

Riding the emotional waves of back to school

Now that school is underway, routines in households are changing and stress is going up. The transition requires more structured schedules and greater responsibilities such as making lunches and doing homework. As a result, there is an escalation in emotional distress that results in more people this time of year reporting greater levels of anxiety, sadness and lack of energy or motivation. So how can we manage household emotions during this time of year?

Effectively dealing with our emotions and keeping our distress at a tolerable and functional level requires us to use some of the core principles of mindfulness. Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, which includes noticing our thoughts, feelings and behaviors without judging them or trying to shift and change them.

When we use mindfulness, we spend time naming the emotion accurately. Many of us have a tendency to refer to common emotions such as fear, anger, sadness and joy. But always referring to those more common emotions means we never get to the bottom of what is going on with our thoughts and feelings. If all of our “mad” emotions default to anger, our heath, sense of well-being and friendships can be negatively impacted.

Spending a little more time noticing the emotions will help to see the close relatives of these emotions. For example, anger has some close family members that are irritation, frustration, rage, impatience, hatred, annoyance and resentment.

Using a mindfulness-based approach, we notice how the emotion impacts the body. Where do you feel the emotion in your body? What is the experience like for you? Stay with the feeling in your body, and notice how it changes in the moment. Does the feeling become more or less intense or does it stay the same? Does the emotion move in your body? The shifting of emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations might not be pleasant, but it helps us to know they will shift without us acting on them. My favorite analogy is that emotions are like clouds in the sky. They are always shifting and moving on.

The healthiest approach to emotions is to experience them without trying to block, avoid or hold onto them. Just like a skipper boat on the open ocean water, we can ride the waves of our emotions. Even though the feelings might make us uncomfortable, they won’t hurt us. We can experience our emotions without acting on them. Ultimately, mindfulness practices will help us to reduce our stress response, which will balance our lives and increase our level of happiness.

Sarah Lloyd is a licensed clinical professional counselor and co-owner of the Geneva-based Action Consulting and Therapy.

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