September 26, 2013Q. I can’t seem to get a handle on stress. It seems to affect every part of my life, including my ability to parent. I feel overwhelmed by everyday life. What can I do?
A. There is a growing recognition that we can have more control over our emotions than we suspect. Often we fall victim to our reactions to life. In recent years new approaches to psychology such as cognitive behavioral therapy have demonstrated that we can moderate our emotions by observing our thought patterns and how they are affecting us.
Put simply: Our thoughts from moment to moment have immediate impact on our emotions, one way or another. If we are worrying about something which may happen, or obsessing about something that already happened, we are caught up in “ruminating thoughts” which often have extreme emotional consequences. If we worry, “What if Josh doesn’t make the little league team his friends are on? He will be devastated!” — our emotional distress will be just as immediate and intense as though the event already happened.
What can be done? Mindfulness is a matter of where we direct our attention. If we keep our focus on the present moment, that is one element. Then we have to assess what is going on, “without judgment,” and with the realization that all things pass, even unpleasant moments. When we take the judgment out of it, a much more calm and a clearer perspective is possible. We can be observers of events and our reactions without falling helplessly into an overwhelming cascade of emotions. Over-thinking life, and reacting emotionally, is habitual. Learning new ways of coping has to be practiced.
A good first step is the observation and attention to what is happening. If we are upset, we accept it. It may be helpful to say, “I am unhappy about (the situation). I will allow myself to feel this way for about 20 minutes. Then it is time to let it go.”
Meditation is anything we do which refuels us and helps us cope in the present without jumping into past or future. Swimming, walking, running, art, singing or gardening . . . all these can be forms of active meditation.
We have more tools for coping than we suspect, and they are not as hard to learn as we think.
McKinley Light is a licensed clinical social worker, board certified marriage and family therapist for adults, children and adolescents in private practice in Grosse Pointe. She can be reached at (313) 640-7762 ext. 1. She is a featured presenter at the Managing Life’s Launches “Cradle to College” presentation offered by The Family Center on Oct. 10.
The Family Center, a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization, serves as the community’s centralized hub for information, resources and referral for families and professionals. It’s motto is enriched communities through stronger families. To view more Ask The Experts articles, visitfamilycenter
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