My oldest daughter is starting college this month. Like everyone else I know, she’s swimming in a sea of uncertainty, trying to make her way through each day and keep her head on straight.
This weekend, she proposed some radical shifts in her college plan. It’s a lot of change all at once and along with it comes myriad emotions. These are the kinds of life choices adults look back on and are either really glad they did them, or they regret they didn’t.
Then she asked me the big question. “Mamma what should I do?”
Deep breath. Look far into the sky. Call in maternal wisdom to aid in my reply. Wait for it…
“I don’t know.”
That’s the truth. I have no idea which situation will be best for her. I have no idea how teachers are going to manage this year. I am clueless about how our lives will continue to change and evolve through a global pandemic.
What I do know is that for most of us, emotions are running high. They can be volatile, disconcerting, and uncomfortable. Sometimes we feel unable to manage them, which is not very useful when we life is demanding so much of us. Besides, feeling helpless sucks.
The full answer to my daughter’s question is this: fine-tune your strategies for navigating your emotional landscape. Your emotions come in waves. Allow them to move through you. Actually feel them instead of pushing them down. When you do that, your emotions can lead you to your truth.
My strategies for navigating emotions are rooted in these three things: Non-Negotiables, Motion, and Connection.
Prevent: Create Your Life-Affirming Non-Negotiables
We all have health, fitness, and other self-care practices we know help and benefit us. We also actually have to do them for them to work. If you don’t have at least 5 of these healthy rituals built into your day, you are setting yourself up for breakdown.
I learned this the hard way a long time ago. My turnaround came when I started noticing how many things I had on my should list. I really should exercise regularly. I should drink more water. I should call my mom more often. It was a long list.
Step one is to examine your “shoulds.” I bet you’ll find a handful of life-affirming changes you can make to your daily routine. Lock them in and make then 100% non-negotiable.
Put them in your calendar; build them into your routines; stop it with the “shoulds” and make them MUSTS. Your emotional landscape will be much easier to navigate when you have your life-affirming, non-negotiable practices in place.
Change: Shift Emotion With Motion
Einstein was clear that problems can’t be solved at the level of thinking where the problem was created. Why not apply this principle to emotions?
If you’re experiencing an emotion you don’t like, change your state! The fastest way to change your emotion is to get IN motion. Move—it’s that simple.
I realize you can’t always leave the building and go out for a walk. I’m not gonna lie—I’ve been known to do squats in a bathroom stall. Or calf raises up and down while I’m on the phone. There are lots of ways to shake and stretch your body while standing in one place.
I would encourage you to think of your students and being in small spaces, as well. What kind of movement can you model for them to encourage a change of state? Things like targeted breathing exercises or chair dancing come to mind.
When movement is not possible—like being in a meeting or on a video call—make sure to develop your own grounding techniques that work to counterbalance rapidly rising stress levels. I ground myself by taking full, deep belly breaths, making sure to squeeze all the air out on my exhale by pulling my navel toward my spine.
Generally speaking, the more you are flooded by changing emotions, the more you need to move. Sometimes a dance break is all you need to make a shift in your emotional state.
Deepen: Make Real-time Connections
Have you ever noticed that you can spend a whole day on Zoom and Facebook, only to wind up feeling lonely? How does that happen?
Sometimes we spend so much time reading and sharing on social media, we start to think it’s filling our connection bucket, when in fact it actually makes us more anxious or lonely. If you’re on Facebook or Instagram a lot, close it down and pick up the phone. Call a friend or family member just to connect. Get moving for a few minutes and listen to one of your favorite inspirational speakers on YouTube.
I recommend being strategic about your connections Make sure you have your short list of trusted mentors and friends who hold safe, positive space for you. They listen to you without telling you what to do or going into negativity.
Making genuine, honest connections with the right people, your high/true self, and however you choose to view the universal life force are game changers during times like these. Remind yourself you are not alone.
Making mindful choices in each of the above areas is a big part of my emotional navigation strategy. I would love to hear what tools and rituals you build into your life. Let me know!