Taxes, leather briefcase, slurping coffee grounds out of a faded travel mug. Bitchy bosses and long meetings. Cubicles. A framed picture of the family propped up next to a bowl of peppermints. Working 12-hour days and coming home grumpy. Trying to remember anniversaries. Signing forms, paying bills, waiting for Friday to come around. Armchair with food crumbs and Kool-Aid stains. Listening to screeching violin practicing after an annoying day at the office. Trying to get on the treadmill every once in a while. Weight Watchers frozen dinners. Reluctantly giving up a few minutes of peace and quiet for a neighborhood barbecue.

Minivan with a “I love my honor student” bumper sticker, corny “Parent MVP” tee shirt from the middle daughter’s elementary school band fundraiser. PTA meetings, community bake sales, watching the little one’s painfully terrible soccer games. Helping the oldest settle into his first day of middle school. Getting concerned calls from English teachers–“your son’s poetry was distressing.” Cooking soupy casseroles, staying up late finishing laundry, phone ringing constantly. Homeowner’s association, chit-chat with the neighbors. Mopping up vomit, trips to the doctor, band-aids, tissues, cough syrup.


Emotional Regulation

I think most beautiful things in life are rooted in emotion, in some form or another. The same can be said for ugly and awful things. From beauty, and from ugliness, come inspiration. From inspiration comes art, music, literature, innovation, love, passion, life. We need emotions. When we keep in control of them, we can begin to unlock our deepest, truest selves. However, many of us have great difficulty maintaining control, instead being overtaken by the power of potent feeling.

I am somebody who has struggled, does struggle, and will continue to struggle with emotional regulation. I’m a deep feeler (and I believe I was wired that way for a reason). Even though I’m still growing, I’ve learned a few lessons–especially over the past several months–that have helped me immensely in my journey to peace and stability.

I. Dealing with emotions in the moment

  1. Accept. You’re feeling something. You might not understand it completely. That’s okay. Just accept that the feeling is there. Denial won’t help anything.
  2. Avoid judgement. “I’m at a party and I’m sad. Gosh, I’m so stupid–I’m supposed to be happy! I’m ruining everything.” Judging your feeling is going to exacerbate it, potentially pushing you into a downward spiral. Your feeling is what it is. You can’t control that it appeared. What you can control is what you do with it–which leads me into the next step.
  3. Ride the wave. I think a lot of our troubles with emotional regulation have to do with repressing or intensifying. We either shove our emotions down (which can be a painful process in and of itself), leading to buildup and ultimately, explosion–or we tease and provoke the emotion, becoming more and more self-absorbed. Both of these reactions are unhealthy, and can damage our inner health. A better solution is to “ride the wave.” It’s a balance between repression and intensification. Close your eyes and be still. Intense feelings come and go like the tides. Let it wash over you. Focus on your breathing. If you start crying, let it happen. When you stop crying, don’t try to force more tears out. The intense feelings will run their course. This is a lot harder than it sounds, but I’ve found it to be extremely helpful in regaining control of myself.

II. Dealing with emotions in public

This is a trickier one. While it’s good to “ride the wave,” it’s not always possible to do so in every situation. Thankfully, our minds work a little like bladders. For short amounts of time, it’s okay to hold our emotions in until we’re able to release them appropriately. However, it’s very important to remember that we’ll burst if we bottle them up for too long. Take some deep breaths, swallow a few times, and think soothing thoughts. When you’re able, you can allow yourself to release the emotions. If you don’t feel like you can wait, try finding a private bathroom. Those are usually good cry spaces.

Sometimes feelings can be so intense that we can’t hold them at all. In that case, just let it happen. Just cry. It’s alright. Most people are compassionate enough to understand.

III. Dealing with long-term emotions

Previously, I have discussed acute emotions, or emotions that come and go in a short amount of time. On a grander scale are long-term emotional states–where a certain feeling persists or acts as a “theme” for a longer period of time. Right now, I’m in a pleasant long-term state. I’m content with my life, and I’m in a relatively stable condition. However, I still have really bad days with unpleasant acute emotions. Now, about six months ago, I was experiencing a prevailing theme of loneliness in my life. I had fun times, and I enjoyed my life a lot, but there was always that nagging feeling of desolation in the back of my mind. With long-term emotional themes, it’s helpful to do a little deeper self-care. Taking time out for ourselves can help us discover things we hadn’t before. Additionally, when we treat ourselves with kindness, we actually form a better relationship with ourselves (yep, you have a relationship with yourself!). When you become your own friend, you can do so much. You’ll learn the ins and outs of your mind, which will improve your ability to self-soothe and better deal with acute emotions.

For especially difficult emotional states or regulation issues, I would encourage therapy. A common misconception is that seeing a therapist makes you weak or “crazy.” In reality, you’re just seeing a professional for a problem–just like going to the dentist when you have a cavity. It’s not necessarily pleasant to go and face all your problems, but it will make you feel so much better and more in control in the long run. To be honest, therapy has helped me immensely over the past few months, and has really improved my personal growth. Therapy has helped me discover so many of these lessons.

IV. Dealing with emotional thoughts

Emotions influence our thoughts. Thoughts influence our actions. It’s important to remember that emotions are often irrational. They don’t always make sense. Acting from a place of upset is bound to create more difficult situations. This is why emotional regulation is so important. When we’ve dealt with our immediate emotions, we can start to investigate why we were feeling that way. Then we can address any lies or misconceptions we might have been believing. This is processing things at a deeper level. When you’re in the middle of a whirlwind, it’s harder to get to the root of the problem.

V. Dealing with unsafe thoughts

This is very important. Sometimes our emotions can provoke urges that might put ourselves or others in danger. In these cases, it’s imperative to reach out to somebody else for help. Do not be alone when you’re having unsafe thoughts. Your safety is the first priority.

I guess that’s about all I have for right now. I hope these lessons can help you in the same way they have helped me. 🙂

Would I Give It Up?

How much would I give up in order to glorify God?

This is the question I’ve been wondering about. All throughout the summer, I will be destroying my comfort zone. No, not just leaving it–but destroying it. If I am at the bank of a creek, and these next few months are about using stepping stones to get across, the stepping stones are becoming smaller and further apart. I fear I will fall in.

It started with VBS. Working directly with children. That was uncomfortable, but I did it. I got through one week, and I will get through the others. I’m not terrible with kids, as I previously thought. I gave up some of my comfort to help glorify God. Next is camp. I’ll be working at an overnight camp in August. That’s unnerving for me. I won’t have the luxury of my own bed after a long day like I can have after the few hours I work at VBS.

Finally, the mission trip. I’ll be departing on Sunday for five days. I might just bag out on this one. I’ll be so out of my element that I’m not sure I’ll be able to take it. Why:
First off, none of my closest friends were able to come. Even within my own youth group, I’ll be with people I don’t know as well. In addition, we’ll be working with other youth groups. That’s not something I’ve done on the previous four times I’ve been on a mission trip. We’re even going to a completely different place this time–so I’m completely clueless! Even worse, we’ll have to be sharing quarters with other youth groups because of space. There will be no AC. We have to bring bathing suits, because the showers won’t have stalls. All of this combined is terribly overwhelming for me. I feel like I’ll be lost. Less familiarity. Fewer amenities. Less privacy.

Allow me to go on a tangent. My privacy is actually important to me. People closest to me tend to overlook this. Because around my most cherished friends, I’m exuberant. Lively, talkative, full of ideas. I guess they assume I’m always like that. But what they don’t understand is that after being with them, I can go home and sit on the corner of my couch with my computer. What they don’t understand is that being with them is the exception to the rule. I’m not exuberant around those not close to me. I’m not “illumined” by those not close to me. On this trip, I’m going to be surrounded by new people, new places, and new tasks. I’ll need my space to get away from it all, especially in such a scary and exhausting situation, but I don’t think I can get that there.

And I am a modest person. Not necessarily in the sense that I don’t like wearing short shorts, but in that I don’t want to wear a bathing suit and have to shower with other teenage girls. It’s unfortunate that we’ll have to resort to that. That’s just not comfortable for me. It’s not comfortable having to sleep in a big room with other people. Will we working with broken people, people who need prayer–or will we just be doing yard work? Because I am willing to give up more for broken people than I am for a field of weeds or a rickety fence.

But how much? All this comfort–how much would I be willing to sacrifice for the Lord?

Would I give it up?