Getting back to basics: Emotional regulation skills for parents and teens
During this presentation hosted by Laura L. Fuller, PhD, ABPP, Patricia Espe-Pfeifer, PhD discusses managing and regulating emotions, which are skills that are described as extremely valuable by parents and teens. Keep in mind that these skills and principles can work for all of us, whether or not we have teenage children.
How has COVID-19 changed things? Is it harder to emotionally regulate ourselves?
For many of us, the COVID-19 outbreak has made life different. Since mid-March, many aspects of our lives have changed, and it is fair to say that these changes have been stressful at times. Activities and planned trips were canceled. Your normal routines that are filled with activities that you love either went online or disappeared. When these activities were postponed or canceled, it felt like a huge loss that came with a very huge mix of emotions.
Social distancing has been a new concept to learn and one that does not come naturally for many of us. For example, following the one-way arrows at grocery stores or learning how to wear a mask appropriately in public are part of our new normal.
Many of us are trying to navigate this new reality of virtual classrooms and homeschooling, while keeping our fingers crossed that the school and work Zoom meetings don't all happen at the same time. Changes in work environments, shifts, and job roles are happening at a quick pace and the ability to keep up with the constant flow of emails is daunting. Needless to say, this has been stressful on so many levels.
How can we use emotion regulation skills to help in this new normal?
This is the perfect time to talk about the basics. Mood symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, can thrive on the unknown, so how do we stay positive during these times? How can we keep some perspective in the midst of all the changes going on in our lives? How can we focus on embracing these activities that have not been canceled? Thankfully we have more family time. We have time to read a book that we've had on our shelves. We have time to reflect on past activities or perhaps future plans, and we've had time to slow down instead of constantly racing from one activity to the next.
There are skills that can help
These PLEASE skills help to reduce vulnerability to our emotion mind. Those are our thoughts when they are completely ruled by feelings. There's also our reasonable mind that's ruled primarily by facts and logic.
We want to use what we call our wise mind, which uses a good mixture of both reasoning and emotion. This is the wisdom within each of us that helps us to think through a situation and avoid acting impulsively. You can take care of your mind by taking care of your body by:
PL: Treat physical illness
- Take care of chronic conditions
- See your doctor if you feel ill
E: Balance eating patterns
- Avoid eating too much or too little
- Stay away from foods that make you overly emotional or irritable, such as too much sugar or caffeine
A: Avoiding mood-altering substances
S: Balancing sleep
- Stick to a good sleep schedule
E: Getting exercise
- Start small and build on successes
- Get outdoors
- Try virtual workouts
These five steps are foundational behaviors that can be helpful when balancing our mental and physical health.
You can also reduce vulnerability to emotions using the ABCs:
A stands for accumulate positive emotions by doing things that are possible in the here and now, that are pleasant and still bring you joy. You can start by trying to do one thing each day that makes you happy.
B is for building mastery by engaging in activities that make you feel competent, confident, and that can help combat any feelings of helplessness and frustration that you might be feeling. Try to find at least one thing each day that makes you feel confident. Try putting your goals on paper and discussing them with a family member or friend. You can also try to do something that is challenging, but still possible to master, and build on it as time goes by.
C stands for coping ahead of time with emotional situations. This is where you can devise a plan of action by describing a situation that's likely to create negative emotions. Decide how to problem solve that situation, imagine the situation in the here and now, and you can rehearse different effective coping strategies in your mind, or even write those out. You can use lists, Post-Its, or a written schedule for the family, whatever works best for your household.
How do I create activities that bring me joy?
You can start by looking at pleasant activities that you can do in general. And these can be a broad range of activities like listening to music, going somewhere, or other things like that. Unfortunately, there are a few hurdles in the way due to social distancing and certain businesses being closed.
So what you can do is adapt what some of those pleasant activities are. This is a really good opportunity for us to figure out things that maybe we didn't know brought us joy, or things we didn't know were fun activities because we didn't have the time to do them.
Activities that adults or teens can enjoy during COVID-19:
- Listening to music
- Go outside and experience nature
- Drawing or painting
- Working out, including live streamed exercise classes
- Make a gift for someone
- Cook or bake
- Browse through photos on your phone or in photo albums you have at home
- Make a smoothie, tea, or coffee
- Take the time to drink it slowly and mindfully
- Rearrange your bedroom or a living space
- Give yourself an at-home spa day
- Video chat or FaceTime with a friend or loved one
- Start a round of 20 questions with friends or family via text message
- Host a Netflix party with friends to watch a movie and discuss it together virtually
- Create a dream board to represent where you want your life to be in the future. You can put these images up in your living space as inspiration.
Activities that your entire family can participate in
Since we are often in social isolation with our entire family, what we can do is set this type of activities list up and make it something that everyone in the family can participate in their own way.
- Plan a virtual game night
- Host a family round of Top Chef or Chopped
- Pitch ideas for a future vacation and choose a winner
- Plant a small garden
- Go for a bike ride
- Take a family walk, especially if you have pets that need exercise too
- Exchange recipes virtually with extended family
How can balance help us in regulating our emotions?
Balance is going to be what can you do that allows you to get the sleep that you need, get the type of food that you need, but do it all in moderation, do it with knowing what works for you. This is definitely a time in our lives where we need to use the skills of doing what works, and if you know something works for you, trying to focus on that balance part.
It's okay if you are trying to have a healthy diet and still having that treat that you earned through the day or that you thought would be really good. Sometimes we need to have those things in place and just do it in moderation.
How do people know when they're functioning in their wise mind as opposed to their emotion mind or their rational mind?
It can be hard to know. I think oftentimes we disregard when we've made good choices and instead focus on what we did wrong or things that are stressful. A lot of wise mind is thinking:
- Did I look at the situation?
- Did I think about my choices for how I could approach the situation?
- What are the feelings that I'm having about it?
So wise mind isn't about getting rid of all emotion and it's not about making choices based only on the facts, it's about taking both of them and making the best decision for yourself for that situation. So just remember that we often don't recognize, especially when we're stressed, when we are making wise decisions.
How can these small changes make such a big difference?
Find some things that bring you positivity, find things that bring you joy in your now day-to-day activities. This doesn't invalidate the stress that we're all going through right now. It really does drive home the idea that this is a time that we need to build community feeling, build ties with our family, things that we can look back and think, “you know, I really did have a positive experience despite the level of stress that was involved.” Those are the types of things that we really need right now.
We are all in the same storm, riding crazy waves, but we are not all in the same boat. Show kindness and help where you can. We are all navigating very different journeys.