In this blog we’ll to talk a bit about 3 skills teens, young adults, and younger parents can use to cope with stress better, and well, get more out of these critical junctures. Because let’s be honest, time really does whiz by quickly and the choices we make during these periods reverberate for the rest of our lives. Enjoy!
Life’s a ceaseless series of micro-decisions. And we, complex human beings, tend to make decisions based on two things: what we feel, and what we think. Issues tend to arise when there’s a lack of balance.
So here’s the three skills:
- Identifying Emotions
- Observing Emotions & Thoughts Together
- Connecting Thoughts & Emotions to The Body
Now, before jumping into the first skill, it’s important to understand our primary emotions because they’re the first signals in stressful situations and keys to the secondary emotions that result. In general, there are 8 Basic Emotions we experience. Here they are in short:
Sadness (Sorrow, Crying)
Anger (Irritation, Annoyance)
Fear (Panic, Fright)
Joy (Happiness, Peace)
Excitement (Hope, Enthusiasm)
Contempt (Disgust, Scorn)
Tenderness (Care, Trust)
Identifying Our Emotions
It’s important to be able to identify the first signs (emotions) that appear when our lives become unbalanced, or we enter dangerous circumstances, and there are different methods we use.
The challenge is that as we begin transitioning into adulthood, our emotions are as well, becoming more complex…and powerful!
But, if we learn to catch that beginning moment of disbalanced emotion it gets easier to control ourselves and prevent things from running off the hinges. Another reason we need be aware of and identify our emotions is because it keeps us calm during stressful situations, it keeps us safer.
Also, emotions help us make better decisions, avoid pain, and of course cope with stress.
Focusing Exercise – The Anchor
An amazing way to begin observing or focusing on your emotions (in contrast to being swept away by them), is by using an anchor or through physical sensations:
- Breathing: In & out rhythm, often used for meditative purposes.
- Painting: The brushes in your hand, the texture of paint, water, etc.
- Drawing/Doodling: The pen or pencil as it glides across the canvas.
So, you could keep the focus on breathing for a few seconds, then switch to your swelling emotions and identify them in real time. Then, switch your focus to the physical sensations – weight of the brush or pencil in your hand, its texture, temperature, or the strength of your fingers. It’s like working out different psychological muscles.
Finally, switch your focus again to the emotions you’re experiencing inside and observe. Through repetition and practice, you’ll get better at identifying emotions in all areas of life and gain more control.
Observing Our Emotions & Thoughts
Through exercises like using anchors we can learn to see our emotions and better control them. Let’s go one step further and talk about the thoughts our emotions invoke – some leading to stabilized mental balance, or vice versa.
To see what I mean, take another look at the dark picture above. What emotions does it summon? Let’s say, fear or stress. Let’s say, that fear then leads you to think to yourself, “I don’t want to go down this path!” And sure, oftentimes in life there are scary paths we shouldn’t venture onto.
However, there are so many that lead to the valuable experiences that shape who we become!
By recognizing fear, you can then recognize when thoughts are essentially making decisions for you. Right? Maybe just over that corner is a special someone, or perhaps a great opportunity just waiting to strike.
Learning how to observe our thoughts is important because they indicate when we’re balanced and rational, driven by intention, desire, intellect, and so forth, and when we’re being carried away. As soon as we witness our knee-jerk thoughts react to fear/stress or suddenly become less organized…it’s one of the signs something is challenging us.
Example Exercise: The Wave
Art activities are a helpful way to observe both emotions, and thoughts. In my online course Process and Processing I created a great exercise called ”Riding the Wave” that covers the topic:
- Children are asked to visualize a wave at the beach. That same wave can reflect our lives and the way we experience (receive) challenges. “Can we remain balanced and centered even when surfing life’s waves?” As participants listen to the gentle sounds of waves upon the shore, they’re asked to visualize the various attributes of a wave including its size, speed, color and strength. Then, to reflect on how they feel.
The lesson in this exercise is that it’s possible to learn to surf any waves one encounters through life while staying balanced. As children become mindful of their emotions they notice them arise, shifting and then passing away on the seashore of time.
Connecting Our Emotions & Thoughts to Our Body
As we continue going deeper, from recognizing emotional reactions to situations/contexts, on to seeing the thoughts being invoked, we can also identify physical responses. Some people readily know where in the body they experience emotions and thoughts, for example it can be headaches after prolonged stress.
- It’s critical to learn which parts of your body are the centers of different contrasting emotions. Where does your body experience relief? How about anxiety or excitement?
- Body language is our primary means of communication. Do you know your emotional body language?
- There are various levels, say from low to medium, or to high levels when we begin sweating, or breathing heavy, or crossing our arms as a way to protect ourselves.
Another session in my Online Art Course is called ”Discovering Emotion Through Color” that helps make all of this far more apparent.
Example Exercise: Discovering Emotions Through Color
When was the last time you were asked to define a core emotion, like happiness? At first, it seems simple, but gets really complex as we discover it’s more subjective than we thought. Obviously, it can be hard to control an emotion you have yet to define. When that’s tough, colors come in handy.
Through my session on discovering emotions and processing them through color, children learn how different colors feel and which evoke different emotions. Through practice, children get a better grasp of their emotions, their reactions, and how to better process them.
Emotion, thought, physical reaction – all of which can be identified. Art is merely a conduit, a parable, or metaphor that helps us see this reality in safety. Through practice, the entire journey emotions take from initial thought to physical response can be better controlled. Check out my art course, “Process and Processing” to learn more. Cheers!