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Keeping Calm and Carrying On?

aging difficult feelings letting it go menopause mental health mum life naming emotions raising children self help well-being woman health working mum Sep 26, 2021

We have a remarkable ability to “just get on with it”, don’t we?

You have had approximately 3 hours and 47 minutes of sleep (who was counting eh!)  but you still get up and lead that presentation, with Negative Nancy at the back throwing in her usual nuggets of wisdom. But, you smile, nod, and carry on regardless.

You have been up all night with the stinking cold, which was inevitably coming your way since your cold infected child licked your face and sneezed directly into your eyeball. But, you get up and get the kids to school, do the food shop, and carry on regardless.

You have been staring into the mirror, brushing your teeth, not sure how you are feeling, or why your body is changing before your eyes. Then a hot flush creeps up and you can’t think about any of that. But, you head out to meet your 21 year old baby. You have spent all week worrying about her first week at university – so you go, take her out for lunch, praying she will still be open with you about her life and how she feels, and carry on regardless.

You have pottered around home all morning and the silence is deafening. The loneliness is deafening. Then the phone rings – and your daughter is crying, exhausted by the stinking cold, and having no sleep, and what a pain in the ass Negative Nancy is, and you listen, give her reassurance, offer to cook a meal – anything you can think of to help. She just needed to know you were there, and you always are. The call ends, and the silence is yet again deafening. But, you get up, and clean the kitchen because it’s ‘kitchen day’, and carry on regardless.

 All of this – all of the exhaustion, illness, hormones, ageing, loneliness, frustration, anger, worry – they are all part of the human condition! They are just as much a part of life as happiness, joy, excitement, nerves, growing and developing. The not so pleasant emotions and feelings are not mental illness, they are not stuff you just need to build resilience to ‘get over’, they are not feelings we need to bury –  they are part of being alive. However they are sticky! Far stickier than pleasant emotions… which is why the advice of ‘Just let it go’ is unhelpful.

So yes, you do need to carry on with all the daily tasks - agreed… and you can’t just ‘let go’ the hard stuff - so what is my point? Here it comes!

I think our ability to ‘carry on regardless’ should be celebrated! I mean some of you out there would still make it to school pick up dragging a severed off leg over your shoulder!  Your commitment to your work, family, friends is of epic standards!

However, I think we are missing something. I think we are missing the piece that would help prevent these difficult feelings clogging up our head space – which in time, do cause Burnout, Anxiety, Depression and stop you from being YOU. That version of you that can keep going regardless.

 The missing piece – Naming It. Psychiatrist Dan Siegal coined the expression “Name it, to tame it” – and the summary of that strategy is that labelling difficult emotional experiences, allows you to take some control back.

Our brains are designed to take notice of all the minuscule details of difficult feelings. It is there to protect us. Let’s think about your cave woman version (lock down was tough on many of us – so the cave woman version might not look to dissimilar to the 2021 version…)  - anyways, if you were a bit of a plonker, or upset the tribe, or stepped outside of the social norms – you would be chucked out. Being chucked out means having to take on that sabre tooth tiger solo… no thanks!

Our brain still works like this – even though 1. The repercussions of being a plonker are far less dangerous (clearly, as there is plenty of them around), and 2. We have far more roles to juggle, streams of information firing at us, and a ridiculous amount of thoughts to analyse, than our cave women equivalent experienced.

The brain wants to protect us – it starts firing emotions and signals to try to prevent behaviour that might cause you risk – and by ignoring it – the signals get stronger, and the stress hormones are released as back up – and we keep going, keep ignoring it – and then the bubbling anxiety symptoms come – you get the picture? It’s the equivalent of the toddler in the cafe shouting “ Mum, look, mum, mum, mum, look mummy, mum, mum”  and every fibre of your body wants to scream “WILL YOU JUST LOOK AT THE KID WOMAN!!!”.

 We need to acknowledge it. We need to name it.

When we do – our brain gives a big sigh of relief – “ Phew my job here is done, stick the kettle on! ” and it can chill out for a bit. I promise I am not making this stuff up! (Apart from the kettle bit). Check out the research – MRI scans have shown that by “affect labelling”, it decreases activity in the emotion centre of our brain – the bit that is screaming – its called the Amygdala. Then the frontal lobe starts lighting up – which controls our reasoning and thinking.

By naming our feelings (either out loud or in your head), allows us to gain some perspective. It allows us to hold that feeling out at arm’s length, and see it for what it is, rather than an all-encompassing wave of emotion that needs buried to be able to carry on. It allows us to check if it’s a realistic feeling or not, or to just stop and see something for what it is.. difficult.

Allow yourself to feel fed up.

Allow yourself to feel lonely

Allow yourself to feel worried

Allow yourself to not feel a failure because you can’t just ‘let it go’

It may just allow you to see a way out of it. Or just to feel it and be kind to yourself, that it IS difficult, and you don’t need to rationalise it away. First step = Acknowledging. Then we can work on letting it go!

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