By the end of the day, I feel frazzled and chock
full of pent up feelings and thoughts. I don't
want to let all that out on my kids or my husband
- and I hate it when I do - so do you know any
ways to get rid of this stuff without exploding?!
It's really normal to feel like you describe. A
mom is dealing with so many feelings and needs and
wants in her children and partner that the stress
builds up over the course of a day. Plus many
women have been taught in various ways to keep a
stiff upper lip and not to say anything that seems
like a complaint -- which just keeps things
bottled up and festering.
Of course, it is important to be able to say what
needs to be said to your husband or to your kids
or to other people. But it's always also helpful
to be able to let go of painful feelings,
thoughts, stress, or tension entirely within your
own mind. Plus, you can adapt these skills for
your children, from the age of preschoolers
onward, which will be very, very helpful to them.
Here's a summary of practical methods for letting
go - and you can learn more from the other recent
columns on our website, www.NurtureMom.com.
Relaxing Your Body
It is almost impossible to be upset when your body
is relaxed. Try one of these relaxation skills,
even in the middle of a challenging situation:
• Breathe slowly and deeply while imagining that
tension is leaving your body with each breath.
• Try to inhale and exhale for the same amount of
time (e.g., inhale for a count of four, exhale for
four). Imagine that the breath is going in and out
of the region of your heart. Meanwhile, recall or
think about things that give you an appreciative,
grateful, loving feeling. (For more on this simple
but powerful technique, check out the books from
the HeartMath Institute in Santa Cruz.)
• For a young child, a little trick that will help
her breathe deeply is to ask her to exhale fully
and then hold the exhalation for a couple of
seconds - when she inhales, she’ll naturally take
a big breath.
• Deliberately relax certain trigger points, such
as the jaw muscles, pelvic floor, or the "third
eye" between the eyebrows.
• Recall or imagine a very happy, peaceful scene.
You can deepen your capacity to relax when the fur
starts flying by practicing relaxation techniques
at calmer times, like right before bed:
• Systematically put your attention on each major
part of your body, starting with your feet and
working up to your head. If it helps, think a
phrase like "relax," or "locate a point" for your
left foot, right foot, left ankle, right ankle . .
. all the way up to your scalp.
• Tense your muscles for about five seconds and
then relax completely.
• Imagine that you are v-e-r-y heavy, sinking more
and more deeply into your bed
• Imagine that your hands are very warm, like
holding a cup of hot cocoa (this one is especially
good for insomnia)
For kids, bedtime is a great time to train them in
these techniques, since they'll put up with more
mumbo-jumbo to keep you in the room. The point is
that you will initially take them through some of
the methods above, and then over time you will
expect them increasingly to use the methods
themselves at night -- as well as during the day,
in real-life situations.
Releasing Painful Feelings
Yes, life has its share of suffering, and we are
certainly not suggesting that you resist difficult
feelings or suppress them. Instead, we're talking
about simply helping them on their way.
• In a way that's safe, vent - and there are a
variety of options. You could really let it rip
about how you feel in a letter that you'll destroy
after it's written; perhaps burn it in a
ritualistic way, scattering the ashes far and
wide, letting all the feelings go as you do so. Or
tell a trusted friend, with the crucial intention
of getting it off your chest and getting rid of
it, rather than getting more worked up. Or imagine
ranting and yelling inside your own mind. Or yell
out loud while in the shower, on top of a
mountain, underwater, or while driving a car (stay
in control of the car!!!).
• Sense the feelings draining out of your body,
perhaps as if there were tiny valves at the tips
of each finger and toe.
• Exhale the feelings with each breath,
visualizing them as smoggy clouds leaving your
• Imagine the feelings being swept away by
standing in a cool and refreshing stream on a
beautiful, sunny day
• Imagine putting the feelings into a jar and
tossing it into a river to be carried off to the
sea, or placing them on a rocket ship blasting off
to be burned up in the sun.
Saying Good-bye to Negative Thoughts
With this method, you get on your own side and
argue against needlessly negative, limiting, or
inaccurate thoughts, beliefs, expectations, and
assumptions. On paper or in your head, you need to
talk to yourself - and it's the opposite of crazy!
A structured approach is to treat the thoughts
that make you (or a child) upset as propositions
that may or may not be true, and then list three
or more ways that they are totally wrong. Try to
see which of these classic mental errors might
apply: treating a small problem like a big one,
regarding a temporary situation as permanent,
underestimating your own abilities, overestimating
the scale or the likelihood of the challenge, or
forgetting about resources in your world.
For example, if an 8-year-old is afraid that bad
guys could break into your home, together come up
with a list like this one: All our windows and
doors are locked. Your bedroom is next to ours.
I'm a real light sleeper. There's never been a
burglary in our neighborhood. We leave a light on.
Crooks look for easy targets, not houses like
ours. The dogs next door bark at anything, and
they'd sure scare a burglar away. Besides, we're
not rich, and burglars go where the big jewels
are: we don't have anything they want!
Or for an adult, suppose that childcare has fallen
apart yet again for a mother, and she has to take
a day off of work to deal with it, and she's got a
dreadful feeling it'll never work out. To feel
better, she could remind herself that: There are
lots of childcare situations out there, and one of
them has to work. I've found decent childcare in
the past, and I'll find it again. Meanwhile, maybe
my mom can take care of my daughter for a few
days. Time will pass, and we'll get through this.
The important thing is to keep going, to love my
sweet girl, and be loved by her as well.
You get the idea. This method works best when you
do it in a structured and determined way. Give it
(Rick Hanson, Ph.D. is a
clinical psychologist, Jan Hanson, M.S., L.Ac., is
an acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are
raising a daughter and son, ages 15 and 17. With
Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they are the first and
second authors of Mother Nurture: A Mother’s Guide
to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate
Relationships, published by Penguin. You can see
their website at www.nurturemom.com or email them
with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org;
unfortunately, a personal reply may not always be