Understanding Locked-In Emotions
This pandemic is spreading more than just dry coughs and raised temperatures; conflicting emotions and quick tempers are perhaps the most contagious symptoms of all. Being locked at home may keep us safe from the virus, but it's pressurising a contagion of feelings.
In my house we’re lucky. So far, we’ve had none of the symptoms, only a flood of emotion. It feels like four seasons in one day for the five people contained within our walls. We’re overwhelmed with it all - optimism for the possibilities, excitement at unlimited access to screens, anxiety about our well-being, a driving pace to get stuff done, panic at our inability to control anything, joyful peace in the garden, rage at our lack of attention to Lego castles, fear about our finances, grief for what could have been in 2020 and heartbreak at what might be. It’s exhausting. And that’s before I’ve tried to create an expanded noun phrase, subtract 32 from 398 and build a train line, at the same time. (It’s 366 by the way.)
If, like me, you want to start feeling a bit better about being locked-in then I recommend learning to read your emotions and starting to adjust to them. Naming emotions can help you to balance your energy, feel calmer and strengthen your relationships, it can also empower a sense of meaning in your life (bonus). Which is why, maintaining my energy has become my number one priority for the next eight or twelve or who-knows-how-many weeks.
Denial. That was last week. This will not get the better of me – see evidence of intricate timetables for everybody in my family, recent call log to people I love, journal entries written about strengthening my inner belief. I will be OK…. And then in the last few days I’ve noticed other feelings creeping in.
As the reality of being locked-in, wanting to educate two children and needing to entertain a boisterous 3-year-old sinks in, I notice the edges of irritation gnawing at me (as well as the urge to drink wine constantly). I want both my husband and I to be able to maintain our careers – why not – we’re fortunate that it’s even a possibility. It’s a familiar inner conflict; the impossible reality of doing it all, and it’s driven by an unhealthy urge for productivity. Beware. Uncomfortable emotions lie underneath.
I’ve spent years studying the challenges of modern parenthood and leadership behaviours. Surely, it’s simply a case of reprioritising? “You’re a leadership coach, you know how to manage conflict, you can do better than this. He’s 3.” That’s the unhelpful voice in my brain when I plonk my child on the sofa for the umpteenth episode of Paw Patrol. There’s a kernel of truth under that sofa cushion (and a lot of other grot). At the heart of this emotional swell is the challenge to find a new energy; a new way of being.
I’ve experienced extended periods of isolation a couple of times in my life, addressed trauma related anxiety symptoms and rewired myself to avoid burnout from chronic stress. I’ve learned that under the busyness, behind the “Not now, I’m doing this” and in my gritted teeth are some darker feelings. Anger usually comes with sadness, and fear often lurks underneath, playing hide and seek with shame. Shadowy feint, wispy feelings linger deep in my torso, behind my belly button, locked-down by the cage of my ribs. I’ve learnt the hard way that unless I give my emotions consistent, intentional and gentle attention they are unlikely to shift.
Challenging emotions are an everyday human experience, they course through our body as energy. Energy in motion. There’s a lot of unused energy hanging around at the moment; getting to know it and how it moves is a worthwhile, foundational step for everybody.
Grief is my theme tune this week, clanging around in an unconventional arrangement - denial, anger, sadness and bargaining, drowned out by deafening overwhelm. It’s why I’m writing this article, because I also know that the final stage of grief is acceptance. Emotional awareness brings me a sense of empowerment, because I get to connect with others through what’s real. And who doesn’t want to unlock truly meaningful social connection during this physical distancing?
Feeling and naming our murkier emotions can be a relief. Telling someone about them is even better; it’s often all that’s needed to completely dissipate them. It's the best step to creating something different, like compassion, love and acceptance. Dismissing “negative” feelings or rationalising them away can help for a short time, but it’ll put you on your arse eventually. Take it from me, carrying on regardless is not to be recommended. Your body is producing feelings whether you want it to or not, so don’t get locked into victimhood by ignoring what's locked within you.
Of course, not all of it's "negative". The energy I want to protect is in the middle of my torso, in the soft bit where my ribs meet. Put your hand there, on your solar plexus. Breathe in slowly, let your insides relax. Breathe out, even more slowly. Let go a little more.
As you breathe in say to yourself, “Please", and as you breathe out, "Thank you.”
If you’re dismissing it as pointless, try it. Taking a few seconds throughout the day to connect with your body can make a genuine difference to your emotional state. By breathing deeply into my torso I can feel something indistinct become warmer in the core of my body. This softening is the energy of who you are. Your "being" (not your "doing"). You’re going to need it, no matter what happens. I promise it’s worth breathing properly to nurture it, before trying anything more complicated.
Uncomfortable emotions are better when they’re aired. Naming them opens them, so you feel stronger and more able to move forward. It’s empowering to choose a path through uncertainty, despite the emotions, not because of them. Just keep breathing. You’ve got this.
If, like me, you need more support than oxygen I’ve collated a list of "Top 20 Things To Make You Feel Better", available to download for my email subscribers. It’s a list of all the things which I've found to reduce stress and anxiety, based on scientific evidence and the experience of real-life parenthood.
Alternatively join us next week. We’re leading a weekly series of virtual conversations for Mothers to find their inner strength and compassion. In April / May I’m donating all profits from my group coaching to support survivors of domestic violence, because being locked-in isn’t necessarily safe for everyone. This group starts Weds 8th April. We’d love you to join us.