What is health?
1947, WHO definition, “Health is not just the absence of disease, it is an state of complete mental, physical and social well being.”
So a healthy lie needs that our emotional needs are met, our physical needs are met and our social needs are met.
We hear a lot about physical health at home, in school, at work and when we hang out with our friends. In fact, it is the focus of all diets and exercise fads. Good one day, gone the next.
What about Mental/ Emotional Wellbeing?
What does mental/ emotional wellbeing look like in an individual? Do you wonder? I did and do.
Emotional health is not the absence of emotions, it is a stable mood, ability to experience, express and manage emotions, to accept self and others, to bounce back from challenging situations and to thrive in spite of challenges.
When emotions are not managed, they do not go away, they continue to grow and cause emotional distress. Emotional distress affects physical health.
Ask adults suffering from emotional/ mental ill health: how does it affect them?
You will hear, most commonly: sleep is disturbed or decision making is not the best. So can you experience great physical health, if you have not been sleeping well or able to make the right choices?
We hear about mass shootings. We blame the guns, we blame lack of gun regulation/ inadequate screening for licensing, we blame lack of adequate mental health programs to take care of the mentally ill, we blame the stigma of mental health as being the cause. But are these the root cause?
Dig deep. Ask why 5 times and then 5 more times to get to the root cause. Truly, resolving a problem, needs the root cause to be addressed. Does emotional distress seem like a problem?
I am learning a lot about emotional distress from DD. Say how?
We had read a lot of books together about emotions, saw Daniel Tiger episodes about how to manage different emotions. It worked when she was between 2-4 years of age.When DD used to cry, I would start acknowledging her feelings of sadness/ anger and start teaching her or asking her to calm down by deep breathing or squeezing a toy or such and by telling her my assessment of the situation.
Tring Tring…it is her 4th birthday and all bets are off now. If I spoke to her while she was crying, she cried even louder, worse still, got angry . The whole incident, started lasting longer too, maybe 20 minutes but it felt like an eternity. I kept trying the old tricks, and they were not working any more. This continued for a month. I started feeling sorry for myself and all the moms in my practice who may have come in for advice about a child that did this.
I spoke to a good friend, who said ” It is about her, not you.” Very simple yet so powerful. I started putting it into practice. He was telling me, she is a kid struggling with how she feels and if you as an adult starts panicking du to the distress, think about the message to her “You are caretaker does not know how to help her!!!”. For sure she is going to struggle even more.
In the throngs of all that crying, and my personal distress, a ray of light, when I realized this is about her not me. She calmed down as soon as she realized, I was not panicking from the distress I felt , by her crying/ getting angry or reacting to it.
It worked, she was less scared by her own emotions, knowing, I was emotionally there if she needed me to help her with her emotions.
What about me? I ask myself.
And then, came an opportunity to improve on what we were doing. I came across an article that described the child experiencing sadness/ anger as being in a train tunnel out of which s/he would emerge.
So now when she would feel sad or angry, I started counting to 17. Lo and behold, she was feeling sad or was feeling angry, crying or shouting, then by count 15, the sobs or yelling became quiet and by count 17, they stopped, almost like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I then acknowledge her feelings, rub her back but continue to be quiet and she would quietly state the problem and the best way to resolve it.
Better than I expected. DD was figuring out how to take care of her emotions while I patiently waited by her side: having acknowledged her feelings, connected with her by rubbing her back, and only when she has done speaking, did I add any of my own information to teach her.
I realized, she has grown up a little more and wanted to do a little more for herself and by speaking too soon, I was not giving her the space to do it and that was upsetting for her.
She is like any adult, who when she is sad, wants to be held, wants to be heard as a person who is hurting and who did not want a lot of words till she was ready to hear them. This is what I want from my family and friends when I am feeling sad or angry. I do not want others to solve my problems, I am a quite capable, I just need them to listen to me express my feelings. I do not want to be distracted from my feelings. I have come to realize that my feelings give me important clues of what the problem is and what action I need to take next. It was never clearer to me till after this experience with my DD.
Doing the above with your child, multiple times, on a daily basis, till they learn to do it for themselves, takes patience and patience needs time. In our culture, somehow, in spite of or due to technological interconnectedness, we have become severely, time deprived.
Time deprived adults, who may not be experiencing emotional wellness due to lack of time, are raising the future generations who have not learnt to manage their emotions well.
What have you tried for yourself or your child? What has worked?
Did you try just counting to 17? What was your experience?