By Erica Marriaga, MSW, LCSW
The choice is yours! Are you going to FALL back or leap ahead?
Let’s face it! You might feel like you are being pulled in completely opposite directions daily, and if you’re a parent, it’s like that your children are at the core. A simple thing like sending your children to school has now become a HUGE source of stress and anxiety.
That is only one way of looking at it, though. If you allow fears and concerns to take over, that could mean they multiply! However, if you make the effort to focus on the facts, you do have the tools to make informed decisions based on logic, create new thought patterns, and keep these unwanted emotions in check.
Believe me, it is a struggle to reign the mind in. What would it be like to wake up each morning with a plan that you feel comfortable with? Does that wipe away the tears as you watch your baby walk onto the bus wearing a mask, only hoping for them to return home without illness? Or watch as the internet connection at home fails as the teacher is promoting socialization and creating structure on Zoom? Or being the nurturer when the teacher lets you know that your child is having a hard time keeping up with the material being taught and that extra help might only be provided in-person? The answer is no. It does not take away emotions, yet you can experience two competing emotions and thoughts at the same time. This is what therapists call dialectics.
Dialectics focus on the stance of balancing acceptance and change. Dialectics teaches us that you can accept the way things are, though it does not have to mean that you are giving up or are “doomed” to be stuck in the same place forever. Rather, it takes the pressure and judgment off of yourself and the current situation, giving you the motivation to take positive steps towards change. Tell yourself: “I can accept the way things are AND work towards changing my current situation.” For example, “I am doing the best I can given the current circumstances, and I would like to learn to do better.”
I know it is the beginning of Fall, but instead of “falling back” into past thoughts and patterns, how about you plan for the future? Yes, it is important to stay present with our thoughts, but it is equally important to be prepared to “cope ahead.” Our family is counting on us! So let’s create a plan! I am talking about an idea that you can put on paper that will help you navigate your mind and learn how to deal with difficult situations and uncertainty
Step 1. Learn the cause and effect of your emotions to help create a plan.
Describe the situation that is prompting strong emotions and behaviors? What are the facts of the situation, and what emotions are you experiencing?
For instance, say you send the kids to school (that is the fact of the situation). You might experience fear, anxiety, and nervousness (those are the emotions). You may ask yourself, “what if they come home without a mask, or even worse, wearing a friend’s mask? What if they are made fun of? How will I be able to help?”
Step 2. List strategies to help empower your ability to change.
Once you’ve identified the facts and emotions in play, the next step is to decide what problem-solving or coping skills you want to use. Be specific and write out in detail how you will cope with the situation and emotions.
For example, “If my fear and anxiety increase, I might find myself overthinking and feeling guilty and my heart will feel like it is coming out of my chest.” Then counter with a coping strategy: “When this happens, I will try breathing in for 4 counts, holding for 7 counts, and breathing out for 8 counts. I might also stick my hands under cold water, because scientifically, there is evidence that this forces our body temperature to decrease, resulting in a decrease of emotions.”
Although I do not make the big bucks as a lawyer, I have found it helpful to be my own judge in these scenarios. I talk myself through the situation and my fears, and I might tell myself, “I have no evidence that the thoughts I am overthinking are true. I am grounded, and it will be okay.”
Just like I can appoint myself as a lawyer, you can do the same thing and weed out the evidence for and evidence against these thoughts and emotions. Ask yourself, “what is the evidence for my fear that my child will be made fun of because of a lack of recent socialization?” None, you have no evidence that they will be made fun of. “What is the evidence against your thought?” You did not get a call from the teacher. You have no evidence that this happened, and this has not happened in the past.
Step 3. Envision yourself in the situation.
Let’s pretend you are a toddler, and you have a vast imagination. Imagine that you are in the situation. Where are you? What are you noticing about your feelings? Are you able to use a coping skill if this feels too uncomfortable?
Empowering yourself is key. What does coping effectively look like for you? Are you breathing at a pace that is comfortable for you? Are you able to identify what you will say, and how you will be prepared?
Step 4. Rehearse coping effectively.
What exactly can you do? Rehearse actions, thoughts, what to say, and how to say it. Think about new problems that might arise and also rehearse being able to overcome those.
It takes practice, so please do not get discouraged. Think about a time where you were learning how to ride a bicycle or teaching a family member how to ride a bicycle. Did they fall? I bet they did. But did they also get back up and try again? I bet they did! You can, too!
Step 5. RELAX!
What do you think? Do you think you are now more prepared to “cope ahead” of decisions, thoughts, and emotions? Believe me, it is not a simple thing to do, yet, it is obtainable with practice!
So, there you have it. If you succumb to fears and negative thoughts, there is a large chance that you might experience an emotional roller-coaster. If you attempt to cope ahead, even taking the tiniest step, you are further along on the path of acceptance and change.
If you find yourself struggling with indecision, fear, or stress, do not hesitate to reach out for help. Difficulty making decisions and creating a plan can be symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other common mental health struggles. A licensed therapist or counselor can help to empower you to be your best self.
Erica Marriaga is a proud fur-mama of her one-eyed rescue dog, Toby. She loves to spend time with her husband and bond with her family, nieces, and nephews. Erica is passionate and enthusiastic about her role as a therapist. EWC has locations in Manalapan and Shrewsbury, NJ, and accepts a variety of insurances.
Check out Erica’s professional bio here!
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- Resources on emotional triggers and planning ahead