As we were heading in quarantine for the coronavirus almost six weeks ago, I was preparing myself mentally for the challenges that lie ahead. I knew this time would provide opportunities to be brave. And in some weird way, I almost looked forward to the challenge and subconsciously rolled up my sleeves and prepared myself to dig into it.
I was readying myself for the opportunities to grow during this time. I thought about all of the things I was going to learn.
What I couldn’t foresee is that this was going to be a whole lot harder than I thought. And the opportunities for growth have been very different and not at all what I expected.
I was readying myself for new ways to pivot with my business and thinking about how I can embrace a slower pace of life and enjoy this time with my family.
And while I am definitely learning those things and adjusting in those ways, what I didn’t expect was a lesson in learning how to feel and process my emotions.
The Beauty of Falling Apart
A couple of weeks ago, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I was tired. I was grumpy. And I just couldn’t seem to find the energy to get going.
Throughout the quarantine, sleep has been a bit of a struggle. Some nights, James is waking up and not going back to sleep. Other nights, I either stay up too late working or talking to friends. And many times, I climb into bed and I can’t turn off my brain.
So, on this particular morning, I started to problem solve on how we can get better sleep. I thought we needed more activities to help tire James out, so I started searching for toys, games and activity ideas. I texted my friends for tips. And promptly received articles with 42 craft ideas, 34 activities you can create at home and 14 must-have toys and games.
And in no time, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t even bear to look at the lists and ideas because I just knew it would make me feel even more tired even thinking about it all. Plus, I started to feel the shame of comparison creeping in. I felt like I wasn’t measuring up as a mother. That I was failing because I was struggling to manage both my workload and caring for my toddler.
By the time lunch rolled around, I was a wreck. I burst out my front door and called my mother. It wasn’t long before I was utterly sobbing as I frantically walked 3.5 miles around my neighborhood. I cried all the tears I had in me. And in doing so, I let out all of my fear, frustration and exhaustion.
When I was done, I finally sat down in the grass under a tree, feeling emotionally wrung out. I had completely fallen apart.
And it was so needed.
I needed to admit that I felt tired and broken. That I was stressed and scared. That I needed a break and to create space for myself.
But, instead I had been putting on a brave face and trying to keep it all together. I was trying to maintain the normalcy of the life we had before, knowing full well that it wasn’t possible or even feasible.
Once I finally gave myself permission to fall apart and actually embrace how I was feeling, I could do the work to pick up the pieces and find a new way of putting them back together.
If you listened to my episode about coping during a crisis, this story might sound somewhat familiar. In that episode, I talked about how this is something I tend to do in a crisis. I respond remarkably well in the early stages of the crisis and chaos. I’m the calm, cool and collected one that people turn to for strength and support.
It’s not until days or weeks later that my tough veneer starts to crack.
When I published that episode, I realized that I hadn’t fallen apart yet. And I knew it was coming. It HAD to come. It just took a little longer to happen than I thought it would.
Why Feeling Your Feelings Matters
That day I fell apart, Garth had kept encouraging me to take some time for myself. He said, take what you need. Do what you need to do. The problem was that I didn’t know what I needed.
I had let my stress build up so much that I didn’t know what would help me feel better. I was like a volcano that was about to erupt with the hot lava of emotions spilling all over the place and burning everything and everyone in its path.
I now see the danger of letting myself get to that point. It’s not healthy for me or my family.
What I’m learning is that I need to get better at slowing down to recognize and name how I’m feeling. And I’m not the only one.
As I’ve been gobbling up episodes of Brene Brown’s new podcast, Unlocking Us, I’m learning that we, as a society, aren’t terribly good at identifying and responding to our feelings.
In last week’s episode, Brene interviews Dr. Marc Brackett, a researcher at Yale who has developed an entire process around understanding and mastering emotions. Dr. Brackett argues that a better understanding of our emotions can help us be better leaders, teachers and parents.
When we bottle up our emotions, eventually you will get to a boiling point and they will spill out everywhere.
That’s why it’s important to stop and actually take the time to identify how we’re feeling in a moment and WHY we are feeling that way. Because if we do that, it can help us identify what to do and how to respond.
Identifying Feelings and Responding to Them
As I explained in my last solo episode, I tend to over-function in a crisis. I DO instead of feel. But it catches up with me eventually. It always does.
I’ve often heard the mantra to “Feel your feelings.” But I have to be honest, I have never really been good at that.
But, this crisis is teaching me the importance of changing this mindset. To place a priority on feeling. To slow down and identify my emotions in the moment instead of hurrying up to fix the problem or rush off to the next task.
Because if I don’t, I’ll continue to be an emotional wreck who will eventually crash. And while it’s okay to fall apart sometimes, and it was actually helpful in this case, it’s not healthy to hold on to that much emotion and stress.
And if I were to think about it, that’s likely why I have been so tired. Holding on to fear and stress can just cause a lot of fatigue.
As part of this, I’m realizing that I need to speak up for my own needs instead of always worrying about everything and everyone else. That is not selfish. That is healthy.
Getting the the Root of Your Feelings
I think the reason why this has bubbled to the surface for me is that my emotions truly have felt like a rollercoaster now more than any time in my life. And what makes identifying emotions so hard right now is that there are so many of them and it all changes so fast, sometimes by the day or even the hour.
In fact, just last week, I was remarking how I was starting to finally feel more settled and grounded. I felt like we had started to finally get the hang of this quarantine thing. And then this week, I’m back to spiraling out of control with worry and fear as many states, including mine, plan to lift stay at home orders next week.
Last night, I was getting wound up about this as I talked to my mother. She patiently listened and even offered up some advice. But, I didn’t listen. Instead, I continued being chicken little as I proclaimed the sky was falling.
When I hung up the phone and my husband, Garth, remarked how I did more preaching than listening. He said, “why don’t you just call her back and tell her you are scared?”
He was right. I had gathered up a full head of steam and was pontificating on my soap box when really, I was just worried and afraid.
And it’s amazing how just recognizing and naming that made all the difference for me. It changed my perspective and allowed me to have a far more productive conversation with my mom. Just naming those things allowed me to the root of my feelings and then go on to talk about why I was so upset. That change in posture allowed me to be more vulnerable too.
And ultimately, the conversation became a reminder that I can’t control what our government leaders do or what the rest of the world does around me. I can only control how I respond to it.
Feeling Multiple Things at Once
The other aspect of the emotional roller coaster is that I think many of us are feeling multiple things at once.
For me, there has been both hopeful optimism and panicked fearfulness. There has been both the joy of spending more time with my family and the stress of finances and trying to work without childcare.
This is where I think the concept of both/and is so helpful. You can be both optimistic and worried. You can be both joyful and tired. You can be both grateful and stressed.
The idea of both/and reminds me of when I was a new mom after going through years of infertility and IVF.
Any new parent will tell you how hard it is to have a newborn. Yes, you are joyful and so grateful for that little miracle of a baby, but you are also tired and need sleep. Talking about the challenges of parenthood does not make you ungrateful. You can be so happy about that baby and also be so worn out by the lack of sleep.
That’s really where we are today too.
I am grateful my family is healthy and that we have food and a roof over our heads. But I’m also stressed about finding work after the bulk of my contracts have dried up. And I’m also tired from trying to work while also caring for a toddler. As my husband has said, it takes a village to raise a child and we have no village right now.
You are Not Alone in Your Feelings
I’m sharing all of this to say to you that if you are feeling like you are on a roller coaster of emotions, you are NOT alone. I’m right there with you. And if you’re anything like me, you’re just trying to figure it all out.
Certainly, I have a lot of work to do in this area, but I’m seeing the importance and power of paying attention to my feelings and emotions.
I’ll admit, this is NOT the lesson I was hoping to learn for amidst this challenging time. But I’m realizing just how important this opportunity is because this will help me be a more emotionally healthy person in the long run.
So, whatever you are feeling, know that it’s okay to feel those emotions. It’s okay to feel. Actually, it’s GOOD to feel.
I mean, we’re facing a global pandemic after all! This stuff is NOT easy.
So give yourself permission to to acknowledge how you are feeling. Because once you experience those emotions, you can better respond to them. At least, that’s what I’m learning.
And I hope by sharing this, maybe it will help you be okay with pausing to feel your feelings too.
It might just make you feel better.
At least, that’s been the case for me. And I hope it’s true for you too.